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Finance minister set to be Japan PM

Japan's ruling party has elected finance minister Yoshihiko Noda as its new chief, meaning he will almost certainly become the next prime minister and inherit the challenge of rebuilding from the country's disasters.

Mr Noda, 54, is known as a fiscal conservative. He defeated trade minister Banri Kaieda in a run-off election 215-177 after none of the five candidates won a majority in the first round.

Mr Noda will inherit a host of daunting challenges, from a sluggish economy to the massive reconstruction after March's tsunami and nuclear crisis.

He will go on to become prime minister because the ruling Democrats control the more powerful lower house of parliament.

Mr Noda has lately been battling a sluggish economy, bulging national debt and the yen's record surge, which hurts Japan's exporters by making their products more expensive overseas.

As prime minister - Japan's sixth in five years - he will have to broaden his scope to deal with the continuing reconstruction from the March 11 quake and tsunami along the north-eastern coast and the 100,000 people who remain dislocated because of radiation leaking from a tsunami-damaged nuclear plant.

"Let us sweat together for the sake of the people," he said after the vote. "This is my heartfelt wish."

Mr Noda replaces prime minister Naoto Kan, who resigned after nearly 15 months in office plagued by public discontent over political infighting and his administration's handling of the disasters.

After the vote, Mr Noda said the three most pressing challenges are recovering from the tsunami, bringing to a close the nuclear crisis and dealing with the strengthening of the yen and the deflationary pressure it has put on Japan's economy.

Mr Noda came from behind to win the run-off, getting 102 votes in the first round to Mr Kaieda's 143.

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