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Japanese leader assumes a third term

He named an ex-military officer as defense minister but kept other cabinet members.

TOKYO - Shinzo Abe took office Wednesday for a third term as Japan's prime minister, appointing a former military officer as his defense minister but keeping the other members of his previous cabinet.

Parliament reelected Abe after his Liberal Democratic Party won a renewed mandate in a Dec. 14 snap election that the prime minister said was needed for him to carry out further economic and political reforms.

Abe said economic recovery is vital to achieving his key policy goals such as stronger national security and carrying out the most drastic reforms of the economy since World War II.

"My commitment to protecting public safety, lives and happiness is unchanged," Abe said in a late night news conference. "We must, of course, deal with many issues, but nothing can be accomplished without a strong economy."

Gen Nakatani, Abe's new defense minister, headed the Defense Agency in 2001-2002 under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, before it won full-fledged ministry status. A graduate of the National Defense Academy, he attained a rank of first lieutenant before leaving the military.

Nakatani favors a stronger role for the military, which is constrained by the country's commitment to pacifism under the constitution drafted by the American occupation forces following Japan's defeat in World War II.

Nakatani said Abe specifically asked him to tackle "national security in order to protect Japanese territory, the people's lives and properties."

This time, "I feel more strongly about my responsibility," he said. "Japan's security environment has changed, and we must fortify our national security."

Nakatani's predecessor, Akinori Eto, was one of several ministers whose political funding reports were questioned by opposition lawmakers during the recent parliamentary session. Two resigned their cabinet posts but were reelected anyway.

Abe favors revising the constitution as part of his effort to fortify Japan's military, after already revising policies to allow the defense forces to aid allies if they come under attack under a policy dubbed "collective self-defense."