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Fed's zero rate commitment is close to BOJ's: Shirakawa

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) - Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa signaled that his bank was ahead of its U.S. counterpart in easing monetary policy aggressively, not the other way around as some critics say, stressing that the Federal Reserve's commitment on near-zero rates is similar to what the BOJ already has in place.

Shirakawa said the BOJ acted pre-emptively with last week's monetary easing by taking into account various uncertainties on the country's economic outlook, such as the potential damage from recent yen rises and slowing U.S. growth.

While signaling that the BOJ was ready to ease policy further if economic conditions worsen, Shirakawa countered the view held by some lawmakers and market players that it was less willing and slower to loosen credit than the Fed.

"Under our comprehensive monetary easing steps adopted last October, we pledged to keep interest rates effectively at zero until price stability can be foreseen," Shirakawa told parliament on Thursday.

"The Fed's latest commitment is close to what we already have in place," Shirakawa said, referring to the U.S. central bank's pledge on Wednesday to keep interest rates near zero until mid-2013.

Japan intervened in the currency market and eased monetary policy last week in an effort to keep sharp yen rises from derailing a fragile economy.

The BOJ was criticized last summer for responding too slowly to yen rises against the dollar, driven by market views that the Fed would ease policy more aggressively than the Japanese central bank.

BOJ officials hope to avoid a repeat of this and have expressed the central bank's determination to ease policy pre-emptively to counter any risks to the Japanese economy.

(Editing by Joseph Radford)