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Japan’s Prime Minister Reshuffles Cabinet

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reshuffled his cabinet on Friday, just four months after taking office, in an effort to win bipartisan support for an unpopular sales tax hike.

Noda replaced five members of his cabinet, two of whom had been censured by the upper house over a series of gaffes.

Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa, who sparked outrage in Okinawa when he compared the planned relocation of a U.S. Marine base to rape, will be replaced by upper house lawmaker Naoki Tanaka.

Jin Matsubara replaces Consumer Affairs Minister Kenji Yamaoka, who was criticized for ties to dubious business groups and a gaffe comparing the collapse of the euro to the tsunami.

Noda also appointed former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada as the deputy in charge of tax and social security reform, a move that could further divide the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.  Supporters of veteran powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa are weary of Okada, who led the push to suspend Ozawa’s party membership, following his indictment over a political funding scandal.

The cabinet overhaul comes as Noda looks to forge ahead with a bill to double Japan’s five percent sales tax in two stages, something that hasn’t been done since 1997.  The prime minister has said the tax hike is necessary to rein in a public debt that is now twice the $5 trillion economy.

But opposition lawmakers, who control the less powerful upper house of parliament, refused any discussion of the increase until the censured ministers were removed.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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