• Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Report

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Ichiro Ozawa, one of the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party of Japan, remained evasive Wednesday on whether he will run against Prime Minister Naoto Kan in the Sept. 14 DPJ presidential election.

Ozawa said at a political seminar he organized Wednesday in Tokyo that it wasn’t the right place to “talk about juicy political matters” of recent days.

During talks with Kan’s predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, on Tuesday night, Ozawa said he could decide whether to run in the September election as early as Wednesday, according to former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, who attended the two-hour meeting.

Ozawa, who held the party’s No. 2 post as secretary general until June, has been critical of Kan’s administration.

DPJ lawmakers with close ties to Ozawa who share his negative assessment of the current leadership are hoping the power broker, often referred to as the “shadow shogun,” will make a bid to oust Kan as DPJ president and prime minister.

It is becoming difficult for Ozawa to run, as an increasing number of DPJ lawmakers have thrown their support behind Kan in recent days.

During their meeting Tuesday, Hatoyama told Ozawa he will back Kan’s re-election.

Senior DPJ lawmakers close to Hatoyama agreed to refrain from seeking Ozawa’s candidacy at their meeting Tuesday and are believed to be set to express their views soon to DPJ Vice President Kenji Yamaoka, who is expected to back Ozawa in the election, the sources said.

Hatoyama, who has been acting as a mediator between the Kan and Ozawa sides, visited the prime minister Wednesday.

Hatoyama told reporters he urged Kan to “sincerely seek” cooperation from Ozawa if he wants to avoid intraparty conflicts at the DPJ’s upcoming presidential election.

Hatoyama warned Kan that Ozawa looked unwilling to support the prime minister in the presidential race, blaming Kan for the DPJ’s Upper House election loss in July. In addition, Kan has appointed many party members considered “anti-Ozawa” in key party and government positions.

“Mr. Ozawa won’t simply join hands to unite the party,” Hatoyama told Kan.

“(Kan) needs to sincerely request cooperation” from Ozawa, Hatoyama said.

Kan’s government was formed June 8. Hatoyama had stepped down after about eight months in power due to a sharp fall in public support triggered by his failure to resolve the Futenma base relocation and a money scandal.

Ozawa, who has been embroiled in his own political funding scandal, stepped down from the party’s No. 2 post at the same time.

The DPJ plans to accept the registration of candidates for the Sept. 1 presidential poll.

During the seminar Wednesday, Ozawa expressed a sense of crisis about the course of the economy, saying the ongoing sharp ascent of the yen is a “big blow” to an economy that is “completely dependent on external demand.”

“There is no doubt that (the yen’s appreciation) will lead to an opaque and unstable situation,” he said.

Ozawa and Hatoyama exited their respective posts in June both under the cloud of separate money scandals. For similar reasons, Ozawa quit the DPJ presidency last year before the party came to power. His successor, Hatoyama, went on to become prime minister.

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