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Afghan president in Japan to seek Tokyo's support for funds, aid projects

TOKYO (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking financial and political support from Japan, already one of his country's biggest donors, during a visit that began Wednesday.

Karzai will be the first foreign leader to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan since he took office earlier this month. The Afghan leader will be discussing his government's efforts to strengthen governance and improve security, according to Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama.

The two leaders are also expected to tackle Thursday the implementation of aid measures that Tokyo announced last year, including a five-year pledge of $5 billion in fresh aid in November to help the war-torn nation strengthen its police force as well as support agriculture and infrastructure projects.

Under former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Japan ended a naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, saying it should focus on humanitarian rather than military support.

Karzai, taking along his foreign and economics ministers, is hoping for Japanese funding to help support a plan to lure insurgents from the battlefield with jobs and economic opportunities.

Karzai's government remains unpopular in Afghanistan, where many citizens complain they have benefited little from the billions of international aid distributed since the 2001 ouster of the former Taliban regime. Karzai's administration is also perceived as corrupt — a factor believed to have attracted Afghans into the insurgency.

Kodama noted that Karzai won backing from a national peace conference earlier this month to pursue his plans to offer incentives to rank-and-file insurgents to stop fighting, and to come up with plans for negotiating with Taliban leaders.

He said the two leaders are expected to touch on the outcome of the conference, adding that Japan welcomes Karzai's initiative.

Karzai is also scheduled to meet with Emperor Akihito, speak at a seminar, pray at Hiroshima's peace park for the U.S. atomic bombing victims and visit Japan's ancient capital of Nara before leaving Sunday.