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Abe begins new term with vow to increase North Korea pressure

[TOKYO] A newly re-elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wednesday pledged increasing pressure on North Korea to force the nuclear-armed country to the negotiating table, days before a visit by US President Donald Trump expected to be dominated by the threat from Pyongyang.

Kicking off a fresh term in office after he was formally re-elected by parliament, Mr Abe hailed his recent thumping election victory as a means to further squeeze a North Korean regime that has alarmed the region with missile launches and a sixth nuclear test in recent months.

"A strong mandate from the people is a source of strong diplomacy," Mr Abe told a press conference Wednesday, adding that a tough line could persuade Pyongyang to ask for negotiations.

"When President Trump visits Japan, we will spend sufficient time analysing the latest North Korean issues and discussing ways to deal with them," Abe said.

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Signs of any message by Mr Trump to the North will be closely watched during his Asian tour, which begins at the weekend and will see him visit Tokyo from Sunday through Tuesday. Mr Trump will also visit South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

During his election campaign Mr Abe, a staunch conservative, stressed the need for strong leadership to deal with what he called Japan's "twin crises": a shrinking birth rate and the actions of a belligerent and nuclear-armed North Korea, which has sent missiles over northern Japan in recent months.

Mr Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) swept to a two-thirds "super majority" in the 465-seat lower house on October 22. He was reinstated as premier by a huge majority Wednesday and then reappointed all of his cabinet ministers.

The 63-year-old is now on track to become Japan's longest-serving premier.

Mr Abe now has the parliamentary numbers to start a process to change Japan's pacifist constitution - an ambition he has long cherished.

But he told reporters he will move cautiously on the divisive issue, saying that he will first seek an open discussion on the subject.

Mr Abe also said he will improve the nation's productivity, offer free early childhood education and expand childcare support.

Despite his October poll victory, Mr Abe's popularity ratings are relatively low and most observers attribute his election success to a weak and fractured opposition.

AFP

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