Japan PM Abe set to hold news conference amid health concerns

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to hold a news conference on Friday afternoon in which he is expected to address growing concerns about his health after two recent hospital examinations within a week.

Ruling party officials have said Abe’s health is fine, but the hospital visits, one lasting nearly eight hours, have fanned speculation about whether he will be able to continue in the job until the end of his term in September 2021. On Monday he surpassed a record for longest consecutive tenure as premier set by his great-uncle Eisaku Sato half a century ago.

Under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and scandals among party members, Abe – who vowed to revive the economy with his “Abenomics” policy of spending and monetary easing – has recently seen his support fall to one of the lowest levels of his nearly eight years in office.

Though he has beefed up Japan’s military spending and expanded the role of its armed forces, his dream of revising the pacifist constitution has so far failed due to divided public opinion.

Sources have told Reuters Abe would consult with doctors prior to the news conference, whether by phone or another hospital visit.

He is expected to provide an explanation about his health and lay out new measures to fight the coronavirus at the news conference from 5:00 p.m. (0800 GMT) Among them will be a pledge to secure enough vaccines for everyone in the nation by early 2021, paying for this with reserve funds, Japanese media said.

Abe, who has been struggling with the chronic condition ulcerative colitis since his teens, has not detailed what the hospital visits were for, instead saying he wanted to take care of his health and do his utmost at his job.

Speculation that he would step down has been dismissed by allies in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who told Reuters on Wednesday that he meets Abe twice a day and hasn’t seen any change in his health.

He added that Abe’s comments on Monday that he would continue to do his best in the job “explains it all.”

Abe has been in the role since 2012. He resigned abruptly from an earlier term in 2007 because of his struggles with ulcerative colitis, which he has kept in check with medicine that was not previously available.

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