Japan PM credits stimulus for ending recession

TOKYO: Japan's embattled Prime Minister Taro Aso, who faces elections this month, said Monday his policies helped the country out of recession after fresh data showed the first economic growth in over a year.

Aso, who is trailing his opposition rival Yukio Hatoyama in polls ahead of the August 30 vote, also vowed to strengthen the economic rebound to ensure the Japanese people felts its benefits.

"Since I became prime minister, I have done my best on economic measures," Aso told a televised debate with five other party leaders. "As a result, we have seen some signs of a brighter future for the economy." Earlier in the day, government data showed the world's second biggest economy grew 0.9 percent in the April-June quarter, meaning Japan had officially emerged from recession, following Germany and France last week.

Aso's government has launched a series of pump-priming packages to stimulate the economy and cushion the blow of unemployment, which hit 5.4 percent in June, close to its post-World War II high of 5.5 percent.

Aso said that,despite the good growth data, "our people are yet to really feel an economic recovery. Economic recovery is my top priority. I will make the Japanese economy recover at any price." The opposition Democratic Party of Japan has enjoyed a strong lead in polls over Aso's conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has maintained nearly unbroken rule for more than half a century.

The country plunged into recession in the second quarter of 2008 as the severe global downturn crushed demand for its cars, electronics and other exports.

While Japan's recession is technically over, analysts warn that major risks remain, notably from rising unemployment and renewed deflation.