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Abe in hospital as LDP seeks new PM
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08:25, September 14, 2007

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TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hospitalized for stress and exhaustion yesterday, a day after announcing his resignation, as his party scrambled to find a replacement amid growing calls for a general election.

Abe, 52, will 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.

"Some may perhaps call my decision irresponsible," Abe said in an e-mail posted after he was admitted to a Tokyo hospital yesterday afternoon. "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 from my position."

Toshifumi Hibi, a senior 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."

Though Abe did not cite his health as a reason for stepping down, Yosano said he had been receiving regular checks from his personal doctor since returning from a trip abroad in August. Hibi said Abe had been taking medication to help him sleep.

"His doctor determined that his fatigue level has reached its peak," Yosano said.

Abe's resignation left the troubled ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to scramble for a replacement amid growing calls for a general election to give voters a role in choosing the new government.

A party meeting to vote on a successor was set for September 23. Some officials wanted to hold the vote earlier, but it was put off to allow prospective candidates time to prepare.

The front-runner to replace Abe is former foreign minister and fellow conservative Taro Aso.

Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, reportedly refused supporters' plea to join the race. But Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga, who served as defense minister under Koizumi, said he wanted to run.

Former chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who many Abe critics had hoped would challenge him last year, told reporters he had not made up his mind. Other names floated include former finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and party veteran Taku Yamasaki.

Calls for a snap election for the powerful lower house of parliament, which chooses the prime minister, gathered steam yesterday amid the confusion. The opposition took control of the upper house of parliament in elections on July 29, capitalizing on the unpopularity of Abe's scandal-scarred 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," the national Asahi newspaper said in an editorial. "That is the only way to bring back politics based on the people's trust."

Abe made no mention of his medical problems when announcing his resignation. But his vague reasons for leaving - that he felt a new leader was needed to unite the ruling and opposition parties - and the awkward timing fueled speculation he was forced out by the LDP leadership.

Abe, whose support ratings in opinion polls had sagged to about 30 percent, has not yet announced a date for his departure.

The LDP said it would use a streamlined election process to choose his successor as party president on September 23. The party leader is guaranteed election as prime minister because the party controls parliament's lower house.

Source: China Daily/agencies

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