Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Abe hospitalized for exhaustion


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hospitalized yesterday for psychological stress and exhaustion a day after suddenly announcing his resignation, his doctors said, compounding political confusion in the world's second-largest economy.

Abe, 52, was to remain hospitalized for at least three or four days, his doctors said, leaving the care of his scandal-scarred government with his top deputy, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano, as the troubled ruling party scrambled to find a replacement.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said it would hold its election for party president on Sept. 23. The winner is assured of being elected prime minister by parliament because of the LDP majority in the lower house.

By last night, Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga had declared his candidacy. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda -- a senior LDP official -- also told reporters he intends to run.

Abe's hospitalization indicated health concerns had contributed to his abrupt announcement on Wednesday that he would step down.

Toshifumi Hibi, a top doctor treating Abe at Keio University Hospital, said he had gastrointestinal inflammation and had been put on an intravenous saline drip.

"He is suffering from extreme exhaustion," Hibi said. "He has lost weight. Symptoms include abdominal pain, digestion problems and lack of appetite. These symptoms can be attributed to physical exhaustion and psychological stress."

Hibi said Abe had lost about 5kg and that he had also recently been taking sleeping pills.

Abe said on Wednesday he would quit, citing political reasons. Other officials, however, including Yosano, said Abe suffered from unspecified health issues that contributed to his departure.

Yosano said Abe had been receiving regular checks from his personal doctor since returning from a trip abroad over the summer. He also said that the crisis had not reached the level where an acting prime minister needed to be named.

Abe's resignation, meanwhile, left the troubled LDP to scramble for a replacement amid growing calls for a general election to give voters a role in choosing the new government.

"With the LDP government thrown into this much confusion, the voters should be asked in the proper fashion who their choice for leader is in a general election," said the Asahi Shimbun in an editorial. "That is the only way to bring back politics based on the people's trust."

The front-runner to replace Abe, former foreign minister and fellow conservative Taro Aso, was expected to announce his candidacy later yesterday. Abe's popular predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, reportedly refused supporters' pleas to join the race.

Abe defended his decision to resign yesterday in his weekly e-mail magazine.

"Some may perhaps call my decision irresponsible," Abe wrote. "However, I made up my mind that it would be in the very best interests of the nation, and of the people of Japan, for me to step down."


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