Japan ruling party heavyweight acquitted in funding case

TOKYO - A Japanese court on Thursday acquitted ruling party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa of charges of violating fund-raising law, further complicating Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's task of preserving party unity and pushing through his contentious tax hike plan.
The Tokyo district court decision could help the 69-year old former Democratic party leader, who opposes Noda's plan to double the sales tax and leads the party's biggest faction, contest the scheme and challenge Noda's leadership.
All major TV channels broke into their regular programs with the news on the verdict in the trial of the veteran politician who like no other has divided the Japanese public for much of his four-decade career.
Dozens of Ozawa supporters cheered outside the courthouse, carrying placards with his picture on one side and "Innocent" on the other.
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