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Ratings of Japan PM, ruling party fall on scandal

Ratings of Japan PM, ruling party fallonscandal

TOKYO (Reuters) – Voter support for Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his party has fallen due to a funding scandal linked to his powerful No.2 party executive, two media surveys showed on Monday, raising the risk of a policy stalemate.

Opposition parties have threatened to boycott parliamentary debate on an extra budget to prop up the economy if the ruling Democratic Party dodges questions about the scandal ensnaring its secretary-general, Ichiro Ozawa.

The scandal could also threaten the Democrats’ chances of gaining a majority in a mid-year election for parliament’s upper house that they need to win to pass legislation smoothly.

Support for Hatoyama’s cabinet, which had already slid since he took office four months ago due to voters’ doubts about his leadership, fell to 42 percent in an Asahi newspaper poll from 48 the previous month. That was down from initial highs above 70 percent after Hatoyama took power last September.

A Yomiuri newspaper survey showed a steeper drop to 45 percent from 56 percent earlier this month.

Prosecutors have arrested three current and former Ozawa aides. Japanese media say they are probing the source of funds improperly reported by Ozawa’s funding group, and suspect construction firms seeking government contracts were involved.

Hatoyama said on Saturday he would back Ozawa’s decision to stay on in his key post and urged him to fight on.

That stance has drawn fire from Japanese media and the opposition as suggesting bias against the prosecutors, but Kyodo news agency said the premier repeated his position on Monday.

PRESSURE TO RESIGN

Equally disturbing for the government, the percentage of those planning to vote for the ruling party in the upper house election fell to 28 percent from 35 percent in the Yomiuri poll.

That compared to 21 percent who said they would opt for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), little changed.

But 70 percent of respondents to the Yomiuri survey said Ozawa, who stepped down as party leader last year over a separate scandal, should resign from his No. 2 post.

“We must accept the figures from the polls sincerely,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano told a news conference.

“Parliament opens today and our mission is to enact the extra budget as quickly as possible … and by so doing, realise policies that put priority on the people’s livelihoods.”

The Democrats and their allies could ignore any opposition boycott but doing so could further erode voter support.

The Democrats swept to power in an August election that ended more than half a century of nearly unbroken LDP rule, pledging to refocus spending on consumers and cut wasteful spending to help rein in Japan’s ballooning public debt.

But they need to win an outright majority in parliament’s less powerful upper chamber to break free of two small allies who often disagree on policy and ensure smooth passage of laws.

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Thai “red shirts” consider symbolic airport rally

Thai “red shirts” consider symbolic airport rally

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai “red shirt” demonstrators are planning a symbolic rally next week near Bangkok’s main airport, but insisted on Wednesday there would be no repeat of a crippling blockade a year ago by a rival protest movement.

The anti-government group said it was considering a brief demonstration on the road leading to Suvarnabhumi Airport to highlight the government’s failure to prosecute “yellow shirt” protestors who shut down two airports in December 2008.

The eight-day blockade by the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which helped undermine two governments backed by exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, disrupted trade and left at least 230,000 tourists stranded.

The PAD’s occupation of the $4 billion (2.45 billion pound) Suvarnabhumi airport led to downgrades of Thailand’s sovereign credit rating and dealt a big blow to the country’s vital tourism industry, which returned to positive growth in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Most significant, the “red shirts” say, is the failure to prosecute those behind the siege. At the same time as the PAD protest, a court dissolved the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party government and ushered in the current administration, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrats.

“If we go to the airport, it will be a symbolic rally. We won’t bring many people,” said Arisman Pongruangrong, a folk singer and key activist with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), the “red shirts” formal name.

“We won’t close the airport or shut down traffic. We just want to tell the world that the government is unfair and practices double standards,” he added.

MARKET IMPACT

Thailand’s stock market has reflected concerns about the impact of the UDD’s anti-government push, with the benchmark index falling more than one percent on Tuesday, against regional trends, on news of the mooted airport rally.

The UDD, which is backed by the twice-elected Thaksin, accuses the government and his opponents — the PAD, royal advisors, business elites and the military — of using undemocratic means to topple elected pro-Thaksin governments.

The UDD has staged recent protests at symbolic locations such as the offices of the Election Commission (EC) and the Privy Council, a body of advisers to the country’s revered king.

The UDD plans to hold a mass rally in eastern Chantaburi province this weekend at a golf course they claim was built illegally on forest reserve land and may have links to Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda, the king’s closest aide.

It believes Prem, an 89-year-old former premier and army chief, masterminded the coup that removed Thaksin in 2006. It also says the EC is dragging its heels in investigating Abhisit’s Democrats over alleged irregularities in campaign donations.

The UDD also plans to hold a mass rally lasting at least one week on the roads near the seat of government, starting in mid-February, calling for fresh elections.

It is likely to take place at the same time as a parliamentary no-confidence motion against the government by the pro-Thaksin opposition Puea Thai party.

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Apple turns up heat in Nokia battle

Apple turns up heat in Nokia battle

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Nokia said it would defend itself vigorously against Apple’s new complaint to the United States International Trade Commission.

The two phone giants are in the midst of a major legal battle, which started last October when Nokia charged Apple for using its patented technologies without paying for them.

Apple filed the new ITC complaint on Friday.

“Nokia will study the complaint when it is received and continue to defend itself vigorously,” said a company spokesman.

“However, this does not alter the fact that Apple has failed to agree appropriate terms for using Nokia technology and has been seeking a free ride on Nokia’s innovation since it shipped the first iPhone in 2007,” he said.

In late December Nokia also filed a claim with the ITC, alleging Apple infringed seven of its patents in “virtually all of its mobile phones, portable music players, and computers” sold.

“The fact that two such prominent companies have now filed complaints will likely mean the ITC will seek to deal with this as a matter of urgency,” said Ben Wood, head of research at British consultancy CCS Insight.

“That said, a lengthy legal battle is almost inevitable irrespective of a decision from the trade commission,” he said.

The ITC can ban selling products in the United States — a market crucial for Apple, but Nokia makes only a fraction of its sales there.

Analysts say it could take years to solve the legal battle.

“This dispute is still in its infancy. I don’t think Nokia is finished with evaluating the infringements by Apple, it might be just the surface,” said Steven Nathasingh, chief executive of U.S. research firm Vaxa Inc.

Nokia, along with Ericsson and Qualcomm, holds many key patents for making mobile phones.

Nokia has stumbled badly in the fast-growing smartphone sector and relative newcomer Apple has gained ground against the market leader thanks to the iPhone, but still trails Nokia in smartphones sales.

The legal dispute, potentially involving hundreds of millions of dollars in annual royalties, reflects the shifting balance of power in the mobile industry as cellphones morph into handheld computers that can play video games and surf the Web.

Apple, which entered the industry in mid-2007, overtook Nokia in the September quarter as the cellphone maker generating the highest total operating profit.

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