Japanese Prime Minister Abe Will Resign

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 12, 2007; 2:45 AM

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

Abe, 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 U.S.-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 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.

The prime minister said he had instructed ruling party leaders to immediately search for a replacement, but he did not announce a date for his departure from office. His former foreign minister, Taro Aso, is considered a front-runner to replace him.

National broadcaster NHK reported the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was making arrangements to hold an election for a successor next week.

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 electoral defeat.

Abe announced his departure just as the government faced a battle in parliament over whether to extend the country's 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.

On Wednesday, Abe suggested that his departure could aid bipartisan passage of the bill, citing the refusal of Ichiro Ozawa, head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, to meet with him.

"I have pondered how Japan should continue its fight against terrorism," Abe said Wednesday. "I now believe we need change. So Japan must continue its fight against terrorism under a new prime minister."

The United States has turned up the pressure on Japan to extend the mission. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer met with Cabinet officials, including Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, earlier Wednesday to make Washington's case for extension.

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

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