Japan PM Abe promises more economic reforms ahead of local polls

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday pledged to continue his reforms to revive the flagging economy, promising to lift Japan out of "a period of darkness" if his party wins key local elections next month.

The popular, conservative premier addressed the annual convention of his Liberal Democratic Party laying the groundwork to push controversial legislation, including bills to expand the role of the Japanese military.

"By winning the upcoming elections, let us bring the dawn, a new morning to Japan, as we emerge out of a period of darkness," Abe said.

Dozens of gubernatorial, mayoral and local assembly elections will take place in mid April across the country.

The ruling party is seen as enjoying wide popular support, while the opposition bloc remains divided into small groupings.

Since returning to power over two years ago, Abe has issued a series of big-spending stimulus programmes to boost the economy, assisted by aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan, headed by Haruhiko Kuroda, named by the premier himself.

Big businesses and urban areas, like Tokyo, are seen to have benefited from Abe's programmes, dubbed "Abenomics", while rural economies have remained slow.

While share prices are trading around a 15-year high, the world's number three economy is experiencing low growth, fuelling doubts over Abe's bid to lift Japan out of two decades of stagnation.

At the party convention, Abe also said he remained committed to pushing bills that would allow greater roles for the Japanese military, including more overseas missions.

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