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Japan's tsunami recovery stalls

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Some observers blame the size of the tsunami for the slow progress. "The damage is so severe it is beyond the capacity of Japan to mend" without help, says Sayako Nogiwa, an aid worker who is now running operations in the earthquake zone for the nongovernmental organization Association for Aid and Relief.

Japanese politics: business as usual

Others blame Japan's squabbling politicians. Every bill must be painstakingly negotiated with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. It took until June 20 before a basic law on reconstruction was enacted. Parliament extended its current session by 70 days last month so as to debate a second supplementary budget and a bond issue to fund this year's deficit – both critical to the northeast's economic recovery. But the opposition has withdrawn from an agreement to guarantee passage of the two bills because Premier Naoto Kan has refused to set a firm date for his resignation.

"Each political party is working for its own interests," complains Ishinomaki Mayor Kameyama, an independent. "If the government is constantly unstable, the legislative process is slowed down. Financial support from the central government is key to rebuilding the port here and to investing in industry. But we have no clear answers because the budget has not been agreed [upon]."

Waiting for aid

Takamatsu, who inherited the "Sanriku Foods" fish-packing factory when his father drowned in the tsunami, says, "It will cost a lot to replace all the machinery." His insurance will cover only part of those costs. None of the low-interest loan schemes he has heard of will offer what he needs to restart, Takamatsu says, "so I hope a better system will be introduced. Politics is very unstable at the moment, so I'll wait and see what happens." He adds, "I was expecting a second budget this year, but maybe even that won't provide a solution."

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