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5TH LD: Princess Kiko's pregnancy likely to intensify succession debate+
[February 07, 2006]

5TH LD: Princess Kiko's pregnancy likely to intensify succession debate+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)TOKYO, Feb. 7_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: ADDING LDP OFFICIAL'S COMMENTS)

Princess Kiko, the wife of Emperor Akihito's second son Prince Akishino, is pregnant, the Imperial Household Agency said Tuesday in an announcement almost certain to add a new twist to a national debate over whether to allow females to ascend Japan's imperial throne.

Agency chief Shingo Haketa announced the news at a press conference, saying officially that the princess had "shown signs of pregnancy." According to agency sources, Princess Kiko, who had an ultrasound Tuesday morning, is expected to give birth in September or October.

The news comes at a time when the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is planning to submit a bill to revise the Imperial House Law amid concerns over a possible succession crisis in the world's oldest hereditary monarchy, given that no male heir has been born into the imperial family since 1965.

If Princess Kiko's expected baby is a male, he will be third in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito, 45, and Prince Akishino, 40, under the current Imperial House Law which allows only male heirs who have emperors on their fathers' side to reign.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, both of whom were informed of the news from Prince Akishino by phone, appeared delighted, according to Imperial Household Agency chief Haketa.

Koizumi told reporters after the news emerged that the government will maintain its policy of submitting the bill to revise the law during the current regular Diet session through June based on a government panel proposal.

But a senior official of Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party told reporters that the government would likely have to postpone the planned submission of the bill to allow female monarchs.

"Practically speaking, we have no option but to wait (until a baby is born)," according to the LDP official said to be close to Koizumi, who declined to be named.

The government panel on imperial succession proposed to Koizumi in November that female monarchs and their descendants be allowed to reign as a way to ensure "stable succession."

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako's only child is 4-year-old Princess Aiko. The crown princess has been unable to fully resume official duties due to stress-induced illness, which some speculate is from pressure to produce a male heir.

Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, 39, currently have two daughters -- Princess Mako, 14, and Princess Kako, 11.

If the law is revised in line with the government panel report, it will pave the way for Princess Aiko to become the first female monarch since the 18th century.

Koizumi told a Diet session earlier Tuesday that the bill to revise the law is timed to enable Princess Aiko to be raised and educated with the awareness that she will ascend the throne in the future.

It was the first time Koizumi has referred to the reason his government is seeking to enact the contentious legislation during the ongoing Diet session through June 18.

Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko got married in June 1990, two years after she graduated from Tokyo's Gakushuin University. Akishino is also a graduate of Gakushuin.

At the annual New Year's poetry reading in January, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko both wrote poems about a stork, a bird believed to be a harbinger of babies, after attending a ceremony last September to release artificially bred white oriental storks into the wild for the first time in the world in Hyogo Prefecture.

Some Cabinet ministers and other conservative Diet members have voiced their opinion recently that the government should take a more cautious approach to the issue of imperial succession.

Hakubun Shimomura, a lower house member opposed to a speedy revision of the law, told reporters Tuesday that "it is better to shelve discussions over the revision (issue) for a while."

Noting that there are various opinions among imperial family members on the issue, Shimomura, a member of a nonpartisan group of conservative Diet members, added that it would be "rude to carry on (discussing the issue) at the Diet in disregard (of them)."

Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, has accused the government of rushing to revise the law, saying the revision would result in breaking the imperial line which academics say has been preserved for more than 2,600 years by passing down the throne only to male-line heirs.

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