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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepping down amid health problems

Shinzo Abe, who became Japan's longest-serving prime minister on Monday, will step down due to unspecified health concerns, Japanese media reported and his party confirmed Friday. Abe is expected to announce his resignation in a press conference. He has no successor in his ruling Liberal Party, and he's expected to stay on until a successor is chosen by his party and approved by parliament, though if the health problems turn out to be serious enough, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso or chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga could take over in a caretaker capacity, AFP reports.

Abe has stepped down for health concerns before, in 2007, less than a year into his first term. When he was elected again in 2012, he said he was managing his ulcerative colitis with new medications. Two hospital visits this month fueled speculation that his health had taken a turn for the worse.

"Abe on Monday became Japan's longest serving prime minister by consecutive days in office, eclipsing the record of Eisaku Sato, his great-uncle, who served 2,798 days from 1964 to 1972," The Associated Press notes, but his poll numbers had hit new lows due to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, as well as a number of political scandals.