Japan's Koizumi reshuffles his Cabinet

Japan's Cabinet resigned Monday to pave the way for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to name new government ministers.

Koizumi was to announce a new Cabinet later Monday afternoon, a closely watched move expected to signal his choices for a successor after his term ends next September.

According to NHK Koizumi will name foreign policy hawk Shinzo Abe to be chief cabinet secretary, the government's top spokesman.

Abe, the grandson of an accused World War II criminal and former prime minister, is widely seen as the choice of the ruling party's right wing to succeed Koizumi as premier.

Others considered likely successor candidates are Home Affairs Minister Taro Aso, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

"No matter what post I may get, I want to help the prime minister push through his reform programs," Abe told before the reports of his appointment. "I want to do all my best whether I get a post in the Cabinet or in the party."

Koizumi was to name senior officials of his Liberal Democratic Party ahead of the reshuffle.

Reports also speculated that two Cabinet incumbents will likely remain in their posts: Economic Minister Heizo Takenaka, a key architect of Koizumi's structural reform agenda, and Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa, who has the backing of the coalition's junior partner New Komei Party.

Tsutomu Takebe, who retained his position as LDP secretary-general, said the new Cabinet would need to finish up the prime minister's reform agenda.

"Koizumi's reform is at the final stage so I'd like to work hard to help create the environment," he said.

The LDP won a landslide victory in Sept. 11 elections for the powerful lower house of Parliament, winning over two-thirds of the seats with its junior coalition partner, the New Komei Party.

The governing party is expected to use the overwhelming majority to push through further reforms, including steps toward amending Japan's pacifist constitution, the AP reports.