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Clinton Pays Tribute To Japan Leader

Thousands of mourners gathered Thursday to honor the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, praising him for his dedication to his country and his efforts to pull Japan out of its lengthy economic slump.

CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen reports that while President Clinton's visit to Japan lasted only a few hours, it was of lasting significance.

Not because of the talks with Mori, which officials described as "not substantial," but because Mr. Clinton's presence at this ceremonial moment in Japan's history served as a symbol for Japan, driving home the strength of the U.S.-Japanese relationship.

Security was tight at the two-hour memorial service at which mourners, led by Crown Princess Masako and Crown Prince Naruhito and including representatives of 99 nations, lined up to lay white flowers on the altar.

Black-garbed politicians, some fighting back tears, approached the altar to bow. Obuchi's widow wept openly.

The service for Obuchi, who died at age 62 on May 14 after suffering a stroke, also provided a venue for a barrage of diplomatic meetings between visiting dignitaries, including President Clinton, who arrived this morning and left later in the day.

President Clinton met with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in a show of solidarity before next week's first summit between the long divided Korean nations.

"There is really no daylight between the United States and South Korea on the proper approach to North Korea in this summit," said Ken Lieberthal, the National Security Council's senior director for Asian affairs.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a friend of Obuchi since they attended the prestigious Waseda University, said at the memorial that the late premier spared no efforts to rejuvenate Japan's weakened economy.

"No one was more concerned with the current condition and the future of our nation as we approached the tumultuous turn of the century," Mori told mourners. "Midway on the path to his goal, he departed without witnessing the fruits of his own labor."

Since his death, Obuchi has been praised as a popular leader who pushed through a series of spending programs and a massive bank bailout to pull the economy out of a decade-long slowdown.

The results of Obuchi's policies have been mixed. While the economy is slowly improving, the progress has been uneven and it is not yet clear when Japan will emerge conclusively from its economic problems.

At the start of the funeral service, Obuchi's son and wife carried a large urn filled with his ashes into the central Tokyo assembly hall, where mourners faced a stage displaying a black-ribboned portrait of the former premier and Japan's rising sun flag.

Organizers also showed a video of the highlights of Obuchi's life.

Clinton and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley laid flowers on a table before Obuchi's ashes. After the service, Clinton praised Obuchi for facing Japan's economic risis "with courage and confidence."

"Prime Minister Obuchi touched hearts around the world in simple human ways," Clinton said. Obuchi "represented to the whole world the ... love for, and commitment to, ordinary people."

The gathering took place amid political turmoil that began when Obuchi was suddenly hospitalized April 2, fell into a coma and was replaced by Mori as premier three days later.

Mori's popularity has rapidly declined through a series of scandals, including persistent anger about how the government withheld details of Obuchi's illness from the public. Mori faces lower house elections June 25, which would have been Obuchi's 63rd birthday.

Mori, who has been criticized as prone to gaffes, committed an etiquette error at the funeral by forgetting the second of three bows the dignitaries and other guests made while laying a chrysanthemum on the stage.

The other guests, including Clinton and Mori's wife, all made three bows -- once before approaching the stage, another before laying the flower and finally after putting the flower down except for Mori. Bowing is extremely important in Japanese culture, which values courtesy and ritual.

While Thursday's service was aimed at honoring Obuchi, the backdrop was pure diplomacy. Representatives from more than 80 countries, territories and international organizations were expected to attend.

The highest-profile talks were centering around Clinton, one of only a handful of heads of state to attend. His stay, however, was to be brief: He arrived on Air Force One after 11 a.m. and left less than 10 hours later.

Clinton and Mori spoke before the funeral. They discussed bilateral relations and the upcoming summit between North and South Korea. The U.S. leader said it was important for Pyongyang to normalize ties with Seoul and other nations, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. Clinton was planning to meet with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung after the funeral.

Mori also met with Kim, praising his policy of openness toward North Korea and for arranging the North-South summit, Japanese officials said.

Japanese leaders were trying to make the most of the opportunity. Mori had lined up at least 15 meetings for this week, and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono had at least 16 others.

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid thanked Japan for aid in dealing with the recent earthquake in Sumatra. Australian Prime Minister John Howard told Mori he expects a strong message on behalf of free trade to some out of an upcoming economic meeting.

In the evening, Wahid and Howard were to try to patch up relations between their countries. Ties have been strained since Australia led a U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping force that quelled pro-Indonesian violence in East Timor.

Mourners gathered at the assembly hall hours before the service. The uninvited thronged outside, waiting for a chance to lay a flower on a stnd in front of Obuchi's portrait. Among those was Sumi Ohashi, who said she ran into Obuchi by chance three years ago before he became premier while on vacation in southern Japan.

"He was extremely friendly and a sincere person," she said, holding a photograph of him. "I prayed for his recovery, but now I feel very sad."

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