Yoshihide Suga named Japan’s prime minister, succeeding Abe

Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during his press conference in Tokyo on September 16, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Yoshihide Suga named Japan’s prime minister, succeeding Abe

  • Suga, 71, praised Abe’s diplomacy and economic policies when asked what he would like to accomplish himself
  • He was a loyal supporter since Abe’s first stint as PM from 2006 to 2007 and helped him return to the job in 2012

TOKYO: Japan’s Parliament elected Yoshihide Suga as prime minister Wednesday, replacing long-serving leader Shinzo Abe with his right-hand man.
Keeping his usual straight face, Suga bowed deeply several times when the results were announced as his fellow ruling party lawmakers applauded in Parliament’s lower house, the more powerful of the two chambers where he has a seat. He was also confirmed in the upper house.
Suga, who was chief Cabinet secretary and the top government spokesman under Abe, selected a Cabinet that is a mix of fresh faces and current or former ministers. They hold their first meeting later Wednesday.
Suga has stressed his background as a farmer’s son and a self-made politician in promising to serve the interests of ordinary people and rural communities. He has said he will pursue Abe’s unfinished policies and that his priorities will be fighting the coronavirus and turning around an economy battered by the pandemic.

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Abe said before the change was official that as a lawmaker, he will support Suga’s government and he thanked the people for their understanding and their strong support for Suga.
“I devoted my body and soul for the economic recovery and diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interest every single day since we returned to power,” Abe told reporters at the prime minister’s office before heading into his final Cabinet meeting. “During this time, I was able to tackle various challenges together with the people, and I’m proud of myself.”
In a brief farewell ceremony, Abe was presented with a bouquet as all Prime Minister’s Office staff and Suga lined up and applauded until he disappeared into his car. Abe, 65, said last month he was resigning because his treatment for ulcerative colitis would be ongoing and cause physical weakness.
Suga was a loyal supporter since Abe’s first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and helped him return to the job in 2012. He gained early support from party heavyweights on expectations he would continue Abe’s line, and his election to lead the ruling party on Monday virtually assured he would be chosen prime minister by Parliament.
Suga, 71, praised Abe’s diplomacy and economic policies when asked what he would like to accomplish himself and says he will set up a new government agency to speed up Japan’s lagging digital transformation.
He said he will break down vested interests and rules that hamper reforms. In reshuffling key posts with the party, however, Suga evenly allocated top posts to key factions, a balancing act seen as returning the favor for their support in the leadership race.
Suga said he will appoint “reform-minded, hard-working people” to the new Cabinet. Fifteen of the 20 expected posts are new; 11 members in the last Abe administration are to be retained or shifted to different ministerial posts and had served one of reshuffled Abe Cabinets.
Finance Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, were retained.
Suga picked Katsunobu Kato, a former health minister and finance official, to succeed him as chief Cabinet secretary. Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who has close ties with Taiwan, was appointed defense minister, replacing Taro Kono who was shifted to administrative reforms minister.
Hashimoto and Yoko Kamikawa are the only Cabinet ministers who are women. Kamikawa in her last stint as justice minister in 2018 ordered the executions of 13 Aum Shinrikyo cultists for the 1995 gas attacks of Tokyo subways.
While Kato, as top government spokesman, read out the lineup for the Suga Cabinet, the ministers arrived at the prime minister’s office ahead of the palace ceremony to be sworn-in by Emperor Naruhito. Suga will then hold a press conference later Wednesday and have his first Cabinet meeting.
Compared to his political prowess at home, Suga has hardly traveled overseas and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe’s priorities.
The new prime minister will inherit a range of challenges, including relations with China, which continues its assertive actions in the contested East China Sea, and what to do with the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed to next summer due to the coronavirus. And he will have to establish a good relationship with whomever wins the US presidential race.


Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

Updated 20 September 2020

Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

  • There have been conflicting reports from lawmakers and residents about number of fatalities
  • Taliban says none of its fighters killed in attack

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry pledged on Sunday to probe “allegations” of at least 12 civilians being killed in an airstrike targeting Taliban fighters in the northern Kunduz province a day earlier.
The pledge followed inconsistencies about the number of casualties, with the insurgent group saying that none of its men had died in the attack.
“The Taliban were the target, and 30 of them were killed. Initial reports indicate no harm was inflicted upon civilians, but we are probing reports by locals about civilian casualties. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces take allegations of civilian harm seriously, and these claims will be investigated,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the defense ministry in Kabul, told Arab News.
He added that the ministry would “share any details” about civilian casualties “once the probe is over.”
If confirmed, Saturday’s airstrike in the Khan Abad district, which lies nearly 350 km from Kabul and is mostly controlled by the Taliban, will be the latest in a series of air raids killing civilians in several parts of the country.
It follows a week after crucial intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban officials began in Doha, Qatar on Saturday, to end the protracted war and plan a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.
There were conflicting accounts from civilians and lawmakers in the area about the incident, with two provincial council members, Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani and Sayed Yusuf, saying that at least 12 civilians had died in Saturday’s air raid.
“Since the area is under Taliban’s control, we have not been able to find out exactly how the civilians were killed,” Rabbani told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nilofar Jalali, a legislator from Kunduz, offered another version of the attack, which she said “hit a residential area before sunrise when people were still in their bed.”
“Children and women are among the dead, and 18 civilians have also been wounded. I informed the defense minister about it; he said he will check and get back to me, but has not,” she told Arab News. However, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the reports in a statement on Sunday, saying that “no fighter of the group was killed,” before placing the number of civilian deaths at 23.
Kunduz and other parts of the country have witnessed an escalation in attacks by both the government and the Taliban in recent weeks, despite their negotiators participating in the Qatar talks which are part of a US-facilitated process following 19 years of conflict in the country — Washington’s longest war in history.
The Qatar discussions are based on a historic accord signed between Washington and the Taliban in February this year which, among other things, paves the way for the complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country by next spring, in return for a pledge from the Taliban not to allow use Afghanistan to harm any country’s, including US, interests.
Kabul’s negotiators in Qatar are pushing the Taliban to declare a cease-fire, while the Taliban say it can be included in the agenda and that both sides must first ascertain “the real cause” of the war.
Some analysts believe that while delegates of the parties are struggling to agree over the mechanism and agenda of the talks in Qatar, their fighters in Afghanistan are “focusing on military tactics to capture grounds” so that they can use it as a “bargaining chip” at the negotiation table.
“Both sides think that if they have more territory then they can argue their case from a position of strength during the talks and use it as leverage,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst and a former university teacher, told Arab News.
“The sides have not yet agreed on the mechanism of the talks despite the Qatar talks, which began on the 12th of September. So, this is an indication that things are not going the right way politically, and both sides are trying their luck on the battlefield here.”