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TOKYO (AP) — Before he got Japan’s top government job officially, Yoshihide Suga was known as a “shadow” prime minister and the right-hand man for his long-serving predecessor.

When Shinzo Abe announced last month he would resign due to ill health, his chief Cabinet secretary Suga said he would come forward to pursue Abe’s unfinished work.

The self-made politician was elected by Parliament on Wednesday as Japan’s new prime minister, two days after he succeeded Abe as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Suga’s low-key image from government briefings contrast with his behind-the-scenes work at managing bureaucrats and pushing policies.

As the chief Cabinet spokesman under Abe, the straight-faced Suga offered bland commentary at twice-daily televised news briefings highlighted last year when he became known as “Uncle Reiwa” in unveiling Emperor Naruhito’s imperial era name.

But behind the scenes, Suga is known for his stubbornness, an iron-fist approach as a policy coordinator and influencing bureaucrats by using the power of the prime minister’s office, leading political watchers to call him the “shadow prime minister.”

Some bureaucrats who opposed his policies have said they were removed from government projects or transferred to another posts. Suga himself recently said he would continue to do so.

As his parents’ eldest son, Suga defied tradition by leaving for Tokyo rather than taking over the family strawberry farm in Akita prefecture. He worked at a cardboard factory before entering university, paying his tuition while working part-time jobs, including one at the Tsukiji fish market.

His classmates remember Suga as a quiet but a person of determination. Suga, who played baseball in junior high school, insisted on his batting form despite an instructor’s advise, saying his style made better sense, his old friend Masashi Yuri told Mainichi newspaper. Apparently Suga was not talking off the cuff, and practiced and mastered an example of a pro-baseball star from Akita. “Once he makes a decision, he never sways and he is still the same.”

He was a secretary to former trade minister Hikosaburo Okonogi for 11 years before becoming a Yokohama city assemblyman in 1987.

“I jumped into politics, where I had no connection or relatives, literary starting from zero,(asterisk) he said Monday.

Suga was elected to the lower house in 1996 at age 47, a late start compared to political heirs like Abe, the third-generation political blue-blood elected to parliament at age 29.

Suga was a loyal supporter of Abe since Abe’s first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, and he helped Abe return to power in 2012 and become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

Suga has said his top priorities will be fighting the coronavirus and turning around a Japanese economy battered by the pandemic. He has also repeatedly praised Abe’s diplomacy and economic policies when asked about what he would like to accomplish as prime minister, and his vision of a future Japan remains unclear. He also defended favoritism and cronyism scandals that occurred under Abe, saying investigations into those cases were properly handled.

Suga, at 71, says he is in good shape and fit for the leadership job. His disciplined daily routine includes sit-ups and walking — while wearing business suits so he can immediately head to work in an emergency. He commutes from a parliamentary apartment and hardly goes home in Yokohama.

He says his weakness is sweets, namely pancakes and daifuku mochi, a Japanese rice treat filled with sweet bean paste.

Suga says he is a reformist and has broken territorial barriers of bureaucracy to secure policy achievements. He credits himself for a boom in foreign tourism, which he hopes to revive when the coronavirus pandemic subsides, as well as lowering mobile phone bills and bolstering agricultural exports.

He is also known to support what would be a historic change in Japan’s immigration policy to allow more foreign laborers into the country to offset the decline in Japan’s workforce as the country ages. Abe and his nationalistic supporters were not keen on the change.

Suga has pledged to crack into vested interests and rules hampering reforms to get more done. One such plan is to form a new agency to promote digital transformation, an area where Japan lags and which has delayed efforts to fight the coronavirus.

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” is Suga’s motto. He says he seeks to build a nation of ”self-support, mutual support, then public support,(asterisk) urging self-help for individuals, though that has raised concerns he envisions a government that is cold to the weak and the needy.

Compared to his political prowess at home, Suga has hardly traveled overseas, and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe’s priorities. Suga said Abe’s leadership diplomacy, including his personal friendship with President Donald Trump, is outstanding and that he may seek Abe’s advice.

Suga also inherits other challenges, including China, which continues its assertive actions in the regional seas. He will have to decide what to do with the Tokyo Olympics, postponed to next summer due to the pandemic, and establish a good relationship with whoever wins the U.S. presidential race.


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Woman, 36, JAILED for breaking coronavirus laws after stopping to buy petrol on Isle of Man

A WOMAN has been jailed breaking coronavirus laws after stopping to buy petrol on the Isle of Man.

Amie Murphy, 36, did not go straight home to self-isolate when she arrived back on the island by ferry.

⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates

1Amie Murphy was jailed for four weeks after stopping at a petrol station

A staff member helped her fill out a landing card and explained what the rules were on self-isolation - which she agreed to.

Lockdown on the Isle of Man ended on June 15 after community infection ended, but there are three people with the virus who developed symptoms while isolating at home.

The fuel warning light came on Murphy's car as she left the ferry port shortly after 5am on September 18.

She then stopped at a patrol station, a court heard.

Murphy told the assistant she had "just got off the boat" and he opened station early for her.

She was later reported to police after the assistant tole his manager about what happened.

When police called at her home, she became aggressive and swore at officers, the magistrates' court heard.

Murphy is a live-in carer for an elderly man in his 80s who was travelling with her.

She said that she had been running out of petrol and told police: "What else was I supposed to do?"

Her defence said Murphy had been in a "tired state" and had shown a "serious lapse of judgement".

Peter Taylor, defending, said she had not realised her car was low on fuel and did not believe that stopping to fill up was "an unreasonable thing to do".

Murphy previously admitted offences of failing to comply with a direction under emergency powers regulations.

Magistrates jailed her for four weeks.

She was also sentenced to one week, to run concurrently, after admitting resisting arrest.

Sentencing Murphy, magistrates said the island was doing its "very best to keep Covid-19 out" and the rules had been explained to her.

She is the fifth person to be jailed for breaching the island's strict isolation policy.

No pleas were entered on the two charges of driving offences, and her next appearance on October 15.

A total of 24 people died after catching the virus on the island and 20 of those death residents of one care home.

More than 12,000 tests have been carried out on the island, which has a population of about 84,000.

The government has warned people this week to spend as little time as possible at patrol station.

This week, the advice was updated for those using the roads, after Boris Johnson last night told the nation to "pull together" as cases rise.

The revised guidance - set out in a 34-page document - says: "Limit the time you spend at garages, petrol stations and motorway services.

"Try to keep your distance from other people and if possible pay by contactless."

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Earlier this year, a man pleaded guilty to failing to self-isolate and was sentenced to four weeks in prison on the Isle of Man.

Earlier this week, a woman was slapped with a £1,000 fine for going to work at a school without quarantining after she returned from Amsterdam.

The woman in her 20s, from the Darwen area of Greater Manchester, was given the fine after flying back from the Netherlands before returning to her job at a Bolton school two days later.

Isle of Man coronavirus laws

Lockdown rules on the Isle of Man are set independently, and are more strict than the rest of the UK.

Anyone travelling to the Isle of Man must self-isolate for two weeks.

Before arrival they must complete a Landing Form with details of where they will be staying for the self-isolation period.

They must go straight to where they are staying and are not allowed to use public transport.

Failure to self-isolate can include up to 3 months imprisonment and or a fine up to £10,000.

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