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JAPAN'S GROWTH SHRINKS 1ST TIME IN 2 1/2 YEARS

Japan's real economic growth contracted for the first time in 21/2 years in the last quarter, further evidence that the present mild downturn is worse than initially believed.

The data, gloomier than many private economists expected, is likely to bolster the government's resolve to boost the economy through fiscal measures.The gross national product fell an annualized 0.2 percent in the last quarter of calendar 1991, the Economic Planning Agency said Thursday.

"The economy is stagnant now and will get worse," said Soichi Enkyo, senior economist at the Bank of Tokyo. "And when recovery comes, it is going to be slower and take longer than people had previously thought."

Gross domestic product grew a real annualized 0.1 percent in the quarter. The agency has said GDP provides a better picture of the domestic economy because income from abroad often fluctuates widely.

Commenting on the figures, agency Vice Minister Shunji Fukinbara said the government might have to revise downward its forecast of 3.7 percent GNP growth for the year ending March 31.

Several economists said growth for the fiscal year could slow to around 3 percent.

Top officials from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and key economic ministers agreed Wednesday on the need to adopt a new comprehensive economic package by the end of this month to stimulate the stagnant economy.

"Unless the LDP can get the fiscal package through and turn sentiment around, Japan is going to be in trouble," said George Worthington, a market analyst.