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Former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and Koichi Kato, former secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, launched their campaigns Tuesday for the Nov. 9 House of Representatives election.

Both candidates are running as independents and are seeking to recapture Diet seats they gave up last year amid accusations of involvement in money-related scandals.

“I have found the path that I should take,” the 59-year-old Tanaka told a crowd of some 400 supporters at a shrine in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.

Tanaka is running for a Lower House seat in the Niigata No. 5 district — a seat she gave up in August 2002 amid bogus allegations that she had misappropriated government funds earmarked for her secretaries.

Following a lengthy absence from the public domain, Tanaka recently announced her candidacy after prosecutors stated last month that there was no case against her.

Just before the campaign began, she tendered her resignation from the Liberal Democratic Party, which suspended her party membership last year.

“Politics are neither magic nor sorcery. I want to start by doing what I can,” Tanaka told her supporters, to huge applause.

In the Niigata constituency, the LDP is supporting Yukio Hoshino, senior vice justice minister.

Hoshino was elected to the Diet in a by-election a year ago, filling the vacancy left by Tanaka’s departure.

Meanwhile, Kato, once considered a leading candidate to become LDP president and prime minister, has spent much of his time talking to local supporters in Yamagata since resigning from the Diet last year over a tax evasion scandal involving his key aide and amid allegations of his own misappropriation of political funds.

On Tuesday, Kato started his campaign speech by apologizing for “causing trouble and worries” among his supporters over the scandal.

“I am determined to start from scratch and do my best,” Kato told supporters in front of the municipal office of his hometown, Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture.

Among other lawmakers embroiled in financial scandals last year, Muneo Suzuki, who refused to give up his Diet seat even after being indicted for accepting bribes, announced recently that he was not running for re-election.

Takanori Sakai, who has been charged with hiding political donations and defrauding the government, also said Tuesday that he would not run in the general election.

Sakai, 55, who is being held in a detention house, issued a statement saying he has decided against seeking re-election.

He added that his political future would depend on how the trial pans out.

Sakai, who was expelled from the Liberal Democratic Party as a result of the scandal, has denied allegations that he hid 168 million yen in donations between 1997 and 2001 and defrauded the government out of 24 million yen between 1996 and 1999.

Kenshiro Matsunami, a member of the New Conservative Party, meanwhile took to the streets in Osaka’s No. 19 constituency, seeking voter support for his re-election bid.

Matsunami attracted severe criticism in the wake of revelations that he had a mob-linked supporter pay the salaries of his secretaries.

“People make mistakes. I will try to become a politician of whom my supporters can be proud,” Matsunami said. “We should never surrender to the conspiracy to crush me. Please help me.”

Meanwhile, some senior leaders of major parties are facing an uphill battle to secure seats in their own constituencies.

Taku Yamasaki, who serves as LDP vice president and is a longtime ally of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, has entered the race amid lingering rumors over his extramarital affairs.

“We are determined to win the fight against the Democratic Party of Japan and lead our structural reform efforts to success,” Yamasaki told his supporters on a street in the Fukuoka No. 2 district.

He did not refer to his personal situation during his campaign speech.

Yukio Hatoyama, a former DPJ chief, is trying desperately to hold onto his seat in the Hokkaido No. 9 district, after narrowly winning in the 2000 election.

It is the first time in more than a decade for Hatoyama, a political thoroughbred, to launch a Lower House campaign with a speech in his home constituency.

“We will oust the LDP, which my grandfather established 48 years ago, out of governing power,” Hatoyama, whose grandfather Ichiro was the founding chief of the LDP, said in his office in Muroran, southern Hokkaido.

Cut-and-run candidate

OSAKA (Kyodo) An independent candidate for the Osaka No. 10 district in the House of Representatives general election allegedly brandished scissors Tuesday to keep reporters from taking his photograph.

According to reporters at the scene, Sotoyuki Murata, 66, showed up wearing a blue cap and a surgical mask when he registered as a candidate at around 9 a.m. at Takatsuki City Hall in Osaka Prefecture.

The reporters said they asked him to pose for a photo after the registration process, but he refused. When they persisted he ran down the stairwell from the 13th floor to the first floor.

The reporters pursued him to the first floor lobby and again asked for his permission to take some photographs.

He pulled out what looked like a pair of scissors from his jacket pocket and waved them at the press and shouted before walking away, according to the witnesses.

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