Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Abe announces his resignation

AP , TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference at his office in Tokyo yesterday to announce his resignation.

PHOTO: EPA

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced yesterday he would resign, ending a troubled year-old government that has suffered a string of damaging scandals and a humiliating electoral defeat.

Abe, who at 52 is Japan's youngest postwar prime minister, said he was quitting to pave the way for ruling and opposition parties to work together to approve the extension of Tokyo's naval mission in support of the US-led operation in Afghanistan.

"In the present situation, it is difficult to push ahead with effective policies that win the support and trust of the public," Abe said in a nationally televised news conference. "I have decided that we need a change in this situation."

Abe, a nationalist whose public support rating has plunged to 30 percent, also cited the ruling party's defeat in July 29 elections, in which the opposition took control of the upper house of parliament.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano suggested that Abe had unspecified health concerns that played a role in his decision, but he refused to give any details.

Abe said he had instructed ruling party leaders to immediately search for a replacement, but he did not announce a date for his departure.

His former foreign minister, Taro Aso, is considered a front-runner to replace him, though Aso said it was too soon for him to comment.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said it would use a streamlined election process to choose a successor. Kyodo News agency reported that the party planned an election for LDP president next Wednesday.

The party leader is guaranteed election as prime minister because of the LDP's control of the powerful lower house of parliament.

The sudden resignation came less than a month after Abe reshuffled his Cabinet in a bid to recover public support.

He had been adamant that he would not step down to take responsibility for the LDP's electoral defeat.

Abe announced his departure just as the government faced a battle in parliament over whether to extend the country's naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. Just days earlier, he said he would quit if he failed to win parliamentary passage of legislation extending the mission.

But Abe suggested that his departure could aid bipartisan passage of the bill.

"I have pondered how Japan should continue its fight against terrorism," Abe said.

"I now believe we need change. So Japan must continue its fight against terrorism under a new prime minister," he said.

Washington has turned up the pressure on Tokyo to extend the mission.

Earlier yesterday US Ambassador Thomas Schieffer met Cabinet officials, including Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, to make the US case for extension.

The plenary session of the lower house was to be delayed until at least tomorrow. The opposition criticized Abe for quitting just as the session was to heat up.

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