- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

TOKYO (AP) Japan's embattled prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, intends to file a libel lawsuit against a tabloid magazine that published pictures yesterday of the leader dining with a reputed gangster, a government spokesman said.

The photographs are the latest bad publicity for Mr. Mori, whose popularity has plummeted to below 20 percent in recent polls and who last month barely survived a rebellion within his own party to beat a no-confidence motion.

Yesterday's edition of the magazine Weekly Gendai showed pictures of Mr. Mori attending a function around October 1998, when he was secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In the photos, Mr. Mori is sitting next to an unidentified man who the magazine says is a former senior member of a group with underworld ties. The magazine also said the man in question served time in prison for murder.

The face of the person in the pictures was intentionally blurred out and unrecognizable.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a press conference that the prime minister will file a libel suit against the magazine within a day or two.

"That is a groundless story," said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, Mr. Mori's spokesman.

"The prime minister is not acquainted with the person," Mr. Koshikawa said. "If the magazine is sure that the prime minister is acquainted with that person, why didn't it put his pictures with his face?"

The magazine report is a new woe for Mr. Mori, one of the most unpopular prime ministers in years.

His low poll numbers and the revolt in his Liberal Democratic Party have raised questions over his ability to lead the nation. He tried to salvage his support with a limited cabinet reshuffle after patching up the rebellion and surviving November's no-confidence vote.

A series of gaffes including remarks earlier this year evocative of Japan's wartime militarism have embarrassed Mr. Mori's supporters, and this is not the first time he has been accused of ties with gangsters.

He faced charges earlier this year that he attended a 1995 wedding reception where one of the guests was a leading gangster. Mr. Mori said he was unaware of the gangster's attendance at the reception.

Critics called for Mr. Mori to resign after he sacked his top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa, in October after reports the official had connections with a right-wing extremist and was involved in an extramarital affair.

The prime minister is also involved in a libel suit against a magazine that claimed he was caught in a raid on a brothel while still a college student. He denied the story, and the lawsuit is still pending.

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