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About 50 lawmakers close to Ichiro Ozawa, Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s archrival, attended the inaugural meeting of a new policy group set up by former Cabinet member Kazuhiro Haraguchi, suggesting internal rifts within the Democratic Party of Japan are widening.

The group met Wednesday, one day after the DPJ decided to suspend Ozawa’s membership following his indictment over a political funding scandal. Haraguchi, a former internal affairs minister, is a close Ozawa ally.

Haraguchi is also considering cooperating with Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who was re-elected earlier this month in a landslide victory over a DPJ-backed challenger among others.

In addition, Koichiro Watanabe, one of 16 DPJ lawmakers who threatened to leave the party’s parliamentary group last week, and other pro-Ozawa lawmakers held their first regular meeting in the Diet building Wednesday.

The moves come at a time when the DPJ leadership is hoping that by punishing Ozawa it will win the opposition camp’s backing to pass the fiscal 2011 budget and related bills through the divided Diet by the end of the fiscal year, March 31.

Ozawa, one of the main architects of the DPJ’s rise to power in 2009, was indicted Jan. 31 over questionable reporting by his political fund management body. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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