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News Briefs

Japanese Prime Minister Pulls Back from Economic Overhaul


Keizo Obuchi promised speedy overhaul of Japan’s ailing economy when he took over as prime minister here this summer. But just as Japan’s businesses embrace that task in earnest, Obuchi appears to have lost his nerve.

First it was his new Cabinet lineup: key economic posts were parceled out to old-fashioned party insiders; outspoken reformers got the boot. Then it was his public criticism of Nissan Motor Co.’s decision to eliminate 21,000 jobs as part of its restructuring plan.

Now comes his pledge to “rescue” the nation’s small and medium-size enterprises by pushing a $96 billion package of government loan guarantees through the special session of parliament that opens Friday.

“It’s a shame,” laments Yasushi Kudo, editor of Ronso, a business magazine that has provided a lively forum for the debate about how to revive Japan’s economy. “Just as businesses and the public are ready to do things differently, suddenly the government is putting on the brakes.”

Some observers offer a more sympathetic view. “I think what you’re seeing here is a two-pronged strategy,” says John Neuffer, a political analyst for Mitsui Marine Life Insurance.

Library of Congress to Pay $20M for King Papers


The Library of Congress has tentatively agreed with the family of Martin Luther King Jr. to acquire the civil rights leader’s personal papers for $20 million. The purchase of the 80,000 items, which has to be authorized by Congress, would be the most expensive in the library’s 200-year history.

Officials there have been interested in King’s papers since before his assassination in 1968. The collection is of drafts of speeches, correspondence and other jottings that King made in the last six years of his life. Negotiations became active this summer when Librarian of Congress James Billington reminded Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, of the library’s eagerness to acquire the King documents. Clyburn arranged a meeting in Atlanta with Dexter Scott King, head of the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change and one of the leader’s four children, and Coretta Scott King, his widow.

“Mr. Billington made his case,” Clyburn said Thursday, “and he said he understood that Sotheby’s auction house had appraised the documents at $30 million. The King family said right then they would make a $10 million gift to the country.” Sotheby’s did a private appraisal of the archive at the request of the King family.