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Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Resigns
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his resignation on Wednesday, less than a month after he reshuffled the Cabinet following a crushing defeat in parliamentary election.


"I made my determination today to step down," Abe told a press conference held at his office.


Abe said that he quitted "to have the war against terror continued," since as long as he is premier, the opposition leader would not agree to talk over the extension of Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.


It would be better to have a new prime minister pursue the matter, he said. Abe also said that he had difficulty in implementing policies and gathering public support.


Abe quitted his post as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and effectively the post of prime minister.


LDP Secretary General Taro Aso said the party will "urgently" hold a presidential election to choose Abe's successor in order to "avoid creating a political vacuum." A presidential election to select new party leader is planned to be held on September 19, Kyodo News quoted a party official as saying.


Several opposition politicians expressed their surprise at the timing of Abe's resignation. Major opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Ichiro Ozawa said that he has never heard of a prime minister stepping down immediately after delivering a policy speech at the parliament. Some said that Abe should not make the announcement only two days after he came from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.


The government's top spokesman Kaoru Yosano disclosed on Wednesday that Abe's decision to resign was partly due to his health, though Abe himself did not mention it at the press conference.


Japanese business leaders also voiced their surprise at Abe's sudden decision. Fujio Mitarai, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, said in a statement that he was "shocked." He said that a new government should be formed as soon as possible to avoid a political vacuum. Nobuo Yamaguchi, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry made a similar comment.


Affected by Abe's resignation, there were also some fluctuations in Tokyo stock exchange market, brokers said.


Abe, who took office on September 26 last year, has been plagued by a series of scandals involving his Cabinet ministers, pension recording errors, as well as a crushing defeat in July's upper house election which cost the LDP's decades-long dominance in the chamber. The support rate for Abe dropped below 30 percent after the election and has remained low.


On August 27, Abe reshuffled the Cabinet and replaced the members with veteran politicians to regain public trust. However, in less than a week, the new Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takehiko Endo resigned over a scandal involving a farmers' group that he heads. The internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda admitted Saturday an error in his own political fund report.


Abe hinted at resignation at a press conference after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on Sunday in Sydney, saying that "I have no intention of clinging to my duties as prime minister if he cannot have the parliament agree the extension of the refueling mission for U.S.-led antiterrorism operations before it expires November 1."


During a 62-day extraordinary Diet session started Monday, the ruling bloc and oppositions led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will debate the issue on antiterrorism law extension, which authorizes the dispatch of Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) vessels to provide refueling support for the antiterrorism operations.


The DPJ, who now has majority votes in the House of Councilors, has repeated its opposition to prolonging the law, which was originally enacted in October 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the US and has been extended three times.


Ozawa said on Wednesday afternoon that the largest opposition will continue its policy against the extension of the law.


(Xinhua News Agency September 12, 2007)

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