Shake-up fails to lift support for Japan’s cabinet amid questions over church -surveys

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Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his cabinet ministers attend a photo session at Kishida's residence, in Tokyo

TOKYO -Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet reshuffle appears to have done little to ease voter concerns amidst anger about the ruling party’s ties to the Unification Church, opinion polls conducted by media groups indicated on Friday.

Links to the church, founded in South Korea in the 1950s and famous for its mass weddings, have become a major liability for Kishida in the month since the suspected killer of former premier Shinzo Abe said his mother was bankrupted by the group and blamed Abe for promoting it.

With approval ratings already at their lowest since he took office in October, Kishida on Wednesday removed some members of his cabinet with ties to the group.

But more than half of respondents to a poll by the conservative Yomiuri daily paper, or 55%, said Kishida’s response was insufficient. Overall support for his cabinet slipped to 51%, down 6 points from a poll on Aug. 5-7.

Some 86% of those who responded to a poll by the Nikkei daily said Kishida’s action had not “erased their concerns” about the links of the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to the organisation, but support for the cabinet held steady at 57%.

Asked about the polls, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the government would listen carefully to the opinions of the people and respond to them.

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Kishida told a news conference on Wednesday after announcing his new cabinet that he had instructed all new members to review their ties with the church, though he said he did not believe it had had an impact on party policy.

Roughly a dozen LDP politicians have disclosed ties to the church or related organisations since Abe was killed.

Several members of the new cabinet said they had links to the group in the past, such as attending events or making donations to affiliated groups.

Kishida said he chose experienced ministers to deal with what he called some of the toughest crises in decades, including surging prices and growing tension with China over Taiwan.

But he said he only selected those who had agreed to “review” their ties with the church.

Taro Kono, the newly installed digital minister who also oversees consumer affairs, told reporters he intended to set up a committee as early as this month to look into commercial activities and fund raising by some religious groups.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Rocky Swift; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Robert Birsel)