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Masaharu Gotoda, a former deputy prime minister, died of pneumonia Monday, his aides and government sources said. He was 91.

Also a former National Police Agency chief, he was known as “Razor Gotoda” for his ability to survive cutthroat politics and to control elite bureaucrats after first being elected as a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker in 1976.

His office said it did not disclose his death until Wednesday according to his wishes.

Gotoda was at one time a candidate for prime minister. He served as chief Cabinet secretary in 1982 under Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and was retained when a new Cabinet was formed in 1983. He became deputy prime minister in 1993 under Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

Gotoda remained influential after withdrawing from politics in 1996 and was critical of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq.

“The SDF dispatch was wrong,” Gotoda said last November, warning the troops could be sucked into the fighting these. “Mr. Koizumi doesn’t know about war.”

Gotoda was a ranking officer in the Imperial Japanese Army and played a role in the 1950 establishment of the National Police Reserve, a predecessor of the SDF, as a government bureaucrat. But he was opposed to any overseas SDF deployment.

“The SDF is not an army (to operate) overseas,” he said.

As justice minister, Gotoda resumed hangings in March 1993 following an unofficial moratorium on executions from the end of November 1989, saying the rule of law should be maintained.

An honorary president of the Japan-China Friendship Center in Tokyo, Gotoda was known for his work in trying to maintain friendly ties with China.

In 1985, Nakasone angered neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, when he paid an official visit to Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine.

The following year, Gotoda, as chief Cabinet secretary, issued the statement: “Being mindful of the feelings of neighboring countries, the prime minister (must) refrain from visiting (the shrine) as a public figure.”

Koizumi issued a statement saying, “I heartily offer my condolences over the death of a politician who loved peace and worked for the people.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said “he made a great contribution” to successive governments and important decisions on the course Japan should take.

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