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Japan’s new leader forges ahead

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Japan's new prime minister set to work Friday on the country's pressing economic problems, convening his Cabinet only hours after being elected and vowing to plow ahead with reforms and a stimulus package.

"This is a Cabinet that will be able to resolve issues one after another in a decisive and speedy manner," Keizo Obuchi declared early Friday. "I will do all I can to implement the financial rebuilding plan as early as possible."On his first full day in the post, Obuchi received further grim economic news: The government announced that Japan's unemployment rate surged to 4.3 percent in June, up from two consecutive months at 4.1 percent.

The June figure is the highest since the government began its current system of compiling unemployment data in 1953.

The prime minister, who replaces Ryutaro Hashimoto, tried Thursday after being chosen premier to win voters' confidence and reassure worried markets by announcing an "economic reform Cabinet" that includes a party economics expert as finance minister.

Obuchi said Friday he would move promptly to implement economic stimulus measures he had promised while campaigning last week to win his party's nomination. These include $42 billion in tax cuts to bring Japan's rates down to U.S. and British levels, $70 billion in extra public works spending and up to a 20 percent cut in the bureaucracy over five years.

"I will definitely carry out these promises," Obuchi said in his first news conference since taking office.

Despite his pledges to make radical changes to the structure of the economy, Obuchi is considered by critics to be too entrenched in the conservative ways of the Liberal Democratic Party to engineer such an overhaul.

He tried to reverse that image this week by naming former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa as Finance Minister. Miyazawa, 78, is respected by many as an economics expert and is an architect of the government's plan to bail out its debt-laden banking system.

Miyazawa told Finance Ministry officials Friday that new solutions were needed because the nation's economy was in "extremely bad shape." He also said future policies would have to be explained to voters, rather than simply imposed, as was the case in the past.

"The most important thing is to get the understanding of the Japanese people," he said.