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Japanese premier reshuffles Cabinet

Japan's prime minister has reshuffled his Cabinet as he tries to revive the struggling economy and expand free trade to stay globally competitive.

Naoto Kan's new Cabinet, his third since taking office last June, will aim to push for reforms as Japan faces a string of daunting problems, including a rapidly ageing population, growing national debt and an anaemic economy.

The most notable changes include Yukio Edano, the ruling party's acting secretary general, who took over as chief Cabinet secretary, and Kaoru Yosano, an independent fiscal conservative, who became minister for economic and fiscal policy.

The reshuffle, which changes about third of the Cabinet posts, is largely seen as an attempt to increase chances of passing key legislation, including the 2011 budget.

Distracted by personnel issues and a scandal involving a party veteran, Mr Kan's government has been unable to make much progress in parliament.

Mr Edano replaces Yoshito Sengoku, who opposition parties criticised for controversial comments on defence and diplomatic issues, such as calling Japan's defence forces "a violent machine".

The opposition bloc had threatened to boycott parliamentary sessions if Mr Sengoku was not replaced.

The appointment of Mr Yosano, a 72-year-old veteran politician known as a supporter of raising the sales tax to meet the country's climbing social security costs, suggests Mr Kan is intent on tackling Japan's bulging national debt, nearly twice the country's GDP.

Mr Yosano, an independent, held a number of senior government posts under the former Liberal Democratic Party government, and is viewed as someone who could foster consensus across party lines. He is also in charge of gender equality and population.

Other key Cabinet members, including Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, were retained.

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