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Japanese divided over succession plan

Japanese divided over succession plan

A big majority of Japanese back proposals to let women ascend the throne, but the public is divided over whether a first-born female should succeed even if she has a younger brother, surveys published yesterday showed.

That split could complicate efforts to enact legal changes next year that would clear the way for 4-year-old Princess Aiko to eventually become Japan\'s first reigning empress in centuries.

Advisers to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last month recommended that women and their children be given equal rights to inherit the throne, urging a break with ancient tradition to avoid a looming succession crisis.

The panel also recommended that the first-born child - whether girl or boy - should become heir.

No royal boys have been born in four decades and debate over whether to revise the succession law intensified after Crown Princess Masako gave birth to Aiko, her first and only child, after nearly eight years of marriage to Crown Prince Naruhito.

Seventy-three percent of respondents to a poll by the Yomiuri newspaper backed allowing a female to ascend the throne, while 60 percent also agreed a reigning empress\'s children should inherit.

But 41 percent said males should take precedence over females regardless of birth order, compared with 37 percent who wanted the first-born child to succeed regardless of gender.

A similar poll by the daily Mainichi newspaper showed 54 percent in favor of a first-born heir against 39 percent who wanted a male to succeed even if he had an older sister.

A 1947 law limits Japan\'s imperial succession to males descended from an emperor, and conservatives are keen to maintain a male line they believe stretches back more than 2,000 years.

Japan has had eight reigning empresses, the last in the 18th century, but none passed the throne on to her own children.

The divide in public opinion could breathe life into efforts by conservatives to give royal males priority over females when legal revisions to the succession law are submitted to parliament in a session beginning in January, royal watchers said.