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By Sakura Murakami

Japan PM Kishida weighs swapping out ministers as support stays flat -Kyodo

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, on December 16, 2022, addressing some topics such as National Security Strategy, political and social issues facing Japan in today's World crisis. David Mareuil/Pool via REUTERS

Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering swapping out select members of his cabinet in January in a bid to reverse his low popularity, news agency Kyodo reported on Friday, citing multiple government sources.

Kishida considered conducting a full-scale reshuffle but is now also considering replacing only a few ministers, the report said, because a large-scale replacement could possibly reveal more ties between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church, a group critics say is a cult.

The reported move comes as Kishida's approval ratings continue to suffer since the assassination of former premier Shinzo Abe in July revealed ties between LDP politicians and the Unification Church. Three cabinet ministers also quit in quick succession in September and October, after a string of scandals.

"I'm not thinking about it," Kishida said, when reporters asked about a possible reshuffle or reorganisation of his cabinet, Jiji reported on Friday.

A spokesperson for the prime minister's office declined to comment on the reported reshuffle.

Kishida's reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba is expected to be replaced in the upcoming shake-up, Kyodo said. He is currently under fire for his alleged involvement in violating election laws and for having ties to the Unification Church.

"There is nothing for us to say on this matter," Akiba's office said, when contacted for comment.

TV network ANN later reported that Kishida could replace Akiba as early as Monday.

Kishida's government has tried to control some of the damage to his ratings, overseeing the passing of a bill that offers support to victims of the Unification Church, which a recent Asahi newspaper poll said 58% of respondents supported.

The prime minister also unveiled a $320 billion, five-year defence plan - Japan's biggest military build-up since World War Two - which initially had the public's backing.

But Kishida's approval ratings have stayed flat. The Asahi poll, conducted immediately after the defence plan was revealed, showed that 31% supported the prime minister while 57% didn't.

The Sankei newspaper also reported on Friday that Kishida is considering reshuffling his cabinet in January. Some ruling party members have floated Jan. 10 as a date, the report said without citing sources.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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