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Hundreds Mourn Noboru Takeshita

June 21, 2000

TOKYO (AP) _ Hundreds of people gathered at a Buddhist temple in downtown Tokyo on Wednesday to mourn Noboru Takeshita, one of Japan’s political kingmakers long after he was driven from office.

The solemn sound of monks singing penetrated the muggy air as the private ceremony began. Dignitaries pulled onto the temple grounds in black cars, while passers-by gathered on the sidewalk to watch from afar.

Takeshita, who died of respiratory failure Monday at age 76, was an influential and scandal-tainted politician who was forced from office in 1989 after admitting to accepting bribes from a marketing company. He was never charged.

The son of a sake brewer, Takeshita served as premier from 1987 to 1989. The two prime ministers who succeeded him, Sosuke Uno and Toshiki Kaifu, were seen as hand-picked by him.

Takeshita was also the mentor of Keizo Obuchi, who was prime minister for almost two years until suffering a stroke in April. Obuchi died May 14.

``He really worked hard,″ Mina Takase, 65, said of Takeshita. ``As an individual, he seemed like a good person.″

Demure in manner and evasive of speech, Takeshita headed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction in Parliament until turning the position over to Obuchi in the mid-1990s.

He served as finance minister in 1985, when a foreign-exchange rate agreement by the world’s industrial powers sent the Japanese yen soaring, setting off the roaring ``bubble″ economy.

The economy has since taken a downturn, suffering its worst slump in the postwar era. But signs of a nascent recovery have recently emerged, with the economy growing in fiscal 1999 after two years of contractions.

``The economy’s finally getting better,″ mourner Michiko Itoh, 34, said before entering the temple grounds. ``I wish he could have lived to see that.″

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