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Peru's Fujimori Visits Japan Seeking Aid to Counter Debt

EVEN though Alberto Fujimori is not yet officially president of Peru, he will nonetheless receive an audience next week with Emperor Akihito during a visit to Japan. This slip of protocol for an unofficial visit is not difficult for the Japanese as they welcome one of their own back to his ancestral country.

Mr. Fujimori, who was born of Japanese immigrants but says he was elected as a full-fledged Peruvian, will spend part of his five-day trip visiting his parents' hometown on the southern island of Kyushu, where he is already a local hero.

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``People in Japan were so proud when Fujimori won,'' says Kensuke Ogata, a Peruvian-born Japanese citizen who heads a Peru-Japan friendship group.

``But in Peru, the ethnic Japanese are afraid of being blamed if Fujimori fails. They think the economy will not get better, no matter who is president.'' Older Peruvian-Japanese remember the anti-Japanese attacks in Peru before 1940, he says.

But while he is being welcomed with open arms, Fujimori comes to Japan on bended knee, seeking hefty financial support for Peru's ailing economy.

Peru's population of some 21 million people is saddled with $20 billion in foreign debt and the third-highest inflation rate in Latin America. Per capita income is now close to $1,000 a year.

High expectations among Peruvians that Fujimori could deliver foreign assistance helped him in the June 10 election and is one reason behind his pre-inaugural tour of both Japan and the United States. Peru needs new loans to pay some $1.2 billion owed to the International Monetary Fund.

In public, at least, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has issued a warning that Peru would not receive special favors just because Fujimori comes from Japanese ancestry.

But, says Mitsuhiro Kagami, an expert on Peru at the government-linked Institute of Developing Economies, ``government officials have sentimental reasons to help a native son.'' One Japanese aid official traveled to Peru this week on a special mission.

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At present, Japan ranks third behind the US and West Germany in aid to Peru. But three times since 1969, Japan has rescheduled its nearly $357 million in loans to Peru.

Since 1984, when Peru put a cap on repaying foreign loans, new Japanese investment has fallen sharply, despite its being home to the second largest group of Japanese immigrants (80,000) in Latin America after Brazil (800,000).

Recent US requests that Japan sharply increase aid to Latin America will make it easy for Japan to justify helping Fujimori, especially since Peru is on the frontline of the US war on drugs, says Mr. Kagami.

Peru is a targeted ``narcotic country,'' since the country's poor farmers harvest about 55 percent of the coca leaves that are used to make the cocaine that enters the US.

It is unclear just how rusty is Fujimori's ability to speak Japanese, and whether he will need a translator when talking to the Emperor.

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