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Noda will become Japan's prime minister<br>Faces broad set of challenges

Japan's finance minister was voted ruling party leader Monday and soon will be the prime minister taking on a mind-boggling mix of challenges: tsunami recovery, a nuclear crisis and bulging national debt, to name a few.

As finance minister, Yoshihiko Noda already has been battling economic malaise and the yen's record surge, which hurts Japan's exporters. But when he takes over from Naoto Kan, Noda will take on an even more unenviable role with a much broader set of problems, including a rapidly aging population, public dismay with government and the efforts to rebuild from the worst disaster to hit Japan since World War II.

Nearly six months after the quake-spawned tsunami devastated Japan's northeastern coast, dozens of towns are still cleaning up and struggling to come up with reconstruction plans. The tsunami-damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has displaced about 100,000 people who live in temporary housing or with relatives, unsure of when they will return.

A fiscal conservative, Noda, who is well-liked by some in the business community, defeated Trade Minister Banri Kaieda in a run-off election 215-177 among ruling party members of parliament after none of the initial five candidates won a majority in the first round.

As party chief, Noda will become prime minister because the Democrats control the more powerful lower house. Parliament is expected to approve Noda today. Early today, Kan and his Cabinet resigned en masse ahead of the vote.

Noda faces an immediate challenge in restoring public confidence shattered by political infighting in the wake of the disasters -- sentiment that sent Kan's approval ratings plunging below 20 percent. "Let us sweat together for the sake of the people," Noda told fellow party members after the vote.

Noda supports free trade and building a stronger partnership with the United States.

He has angered China and South Korea for comments about convicted wartime leaders revered at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the souls of all Japan's war dead are enshrined. He says the wartime leaders had paid their debts and should no longer be seen as war criminals.

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