updated 8/27/2007 6:03:19 AM ET 2007-08-27T10:03:19

Japan’s prime minister reshuffled the Cabinet and ruling party leadership to put experienced conservatives in top positions Monday, as he attempted to regroup following a humiliating electoral defeat.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fighting sinking approval ratings and doubts about his leadership, mined the Cabinets of his popular predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe, who took office in September, asked Nobutaka Machimura, 62, to return as foreign minister, a post he held under Koizumi, while former justice and foreign minister Masahiko Komura, 65, was to come back as defense chief, newly installed Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano announced.

“I believe Prime Minister Abe made appointments of those who can firmly assume their expected duties,” Yosano told the news conference. “I don’t believe there is any magical way to immediately restore support in the Cabinet.”

Both Machimura and Komura should fit easily with Abe’s right-leaning, pro-U.S. government: Under Koizumi, Machimura pushed to phase out development aid to China, while Komura — justice minister under Koizumi — supports a hard-line against North Korea.

Fukushiro Nukaga, 63, a former defense minister and supporter of a joint missile defense with the United States, was appointed to lead the Finance Ministry.

Trade Minister Akira Amari remained in the new Cabinet.

Key party leadership changes
Abe also made key changes in the leadership of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He moved his conservative foreign minister, Taro Aso, to LDP secretary-general, the No. 2 post after Abe. He also filled two other top LDP posts in a bid to rejuvenate the troubled ruling party.

“The important task for the LDP is to regain the public trust and to address the people’s concerns about the future,” Aso told reporters, pledging more communication between the ruling and resurgent opposition parties.

Abe, whose approval ratings are nearly as low as 20 percent, was under pressure to appoint capable, scandal-free ministers following criticism he had originally filled his Cabinet with friends.

Three of Abe’s ministers have been forced to resign, and one committed suicide amid a money scandal.

The July 29 elections for the upper house of parliament were a disaster for his government, with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan seizing control of the chamber. Abe, however, has clung to power because the LDP controls the more powerful lower house.

Abe — at 52, the youngest postwar Japanese premier — has resisted calls for his resignation from the opposition and even within his own party, vowing to push through reforms.

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