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Abe apologises amid cronyism scandal

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Protesters shout slogans during a rally denouncing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on March 25, 2018. Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologised again yesterday for causing anxiety and loss of confidence in his government amid a cronyism scandal.

Protesters urged Mr Abe to resign, as riot police kept tight security outside the venue of his ruling party’s annual convention, at which the premier stressed his intention to revise Japan’s pacifist post-war, US-drafted constitution.

Mr Abe faces his biggest political crisis since taking office in December 2012 as suspicions swirl about a sale of state-owned land at a huge discount to a nationalist school operator with ties to his wife.

“This problem has shaken the people’s confidence in the administration,” the Japanese leader said.

“As head of the government, I keenly feel my responsibility and would like to deeply apologise to the people,” he added.

He pledged a thorough clarification of the facts and the prevention of a recurrence by pulling the government together, but offered no sign of stepping down.

Mr Abe has denied that he or his wife intervened in the sale or that he sought to alter documents related to the deal.

His close ally, Finance Minister Taro Aso, has also denied involvement in the alterations made by ministry officials.

Public opinion polls last weekend showed support for Mr Abe’s cabinet sinking as low as 31 percent, with majorities saying he bears some responsibility for the affair.

The sliding support rates could dash Mr Abe’s hopes of winning a third three-year term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader in a party vote in September, victory in which would set him on track to become Japan’s longest ruling premier.

“We’re protesting to defeat Abe’s government through our voices and the anger of the people,” said Fumiko Katsuragi, 69, who was among hundreds of protesters gathered in a Tokyo park .

Some held banners that read “Go to jail Abe” and “No constitutional revision or war.”

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