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Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009

Now healthy, Abe sticking to the sidelines


Staff writer

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he still feels responsible for failing to fulfill his duties as national leader but must suppress any ambitions for a comeback.

Scion of a political family and Japan's youngest postwar leader when he succeeded Junichiro Koizumi in September 2006, Abe now insists he must block out any thoughts of a return to the top post.

"I think I should refrain from any thought of my own ambitions — or rather, I should just push such ideas out of my head," Abe said in a speech at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. "And also, I don't think (my return) is in demand at the moment."

Both Abe and his successor, Yasuo Fukuda, quit suddenly after only a year in office, dogged by low public support rates. The 54-year-old Abe also aggravated a chronic intestinal disorder while in office and was hospitalized a day after announcing his resignation.

Abe and Fukuda shocked the public and opposition parties with their abrupt resignations, which many viewed as abandonments of their duties.

Abe stressed that he fully backs current Prime Minister Taro Aso, who is also suffering drastically low public support.

"I caused the public a lot of trouble and largely damaged (the Liberal Democratic Party) — and Aso became prime minister in the wake of all that," Abe said. "I believe it is my responsibility to support Aso with all my strength."

Abe succeeded the popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, enjoying a landslide victory in the September 2006 LDP presidential race, beating Aso among others. Despite his pet project to make Japan a "beautiful nation," his rhetoric failed to strike a chord with the public and the LDP suffered a crushing defeat in the 2007 July Upper House election, surrendering Upper House control to the opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

Amid harsh public criticism following the defeat, Abe stayed on as the nation's head, but was unable to cope with a divided Diet.

In September 2007, he abruptly called a news conference and announced his decision to quit "for health reasons."

Looking healthy and energetic Friday, Abe revealed he has been doing well thanks in part to former administrative reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe, who revolted against Aso and quit the LDP a couple of weeks ago after loudly criticizing the prime minister and his policies.

According to Abe, Watanabe's sister, a doctor with the same stomach ailment, recommended the medication she used — and it worked.

"I'm just sorry that I didn't take the medication sooner," Abe said. "In that sense, I am largely indebted (to Watanabe)."



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