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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK
Profile: Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe came from an impressive political dynasty
When Shinzo Abe took office in September 2006, he became Japan's youngest prime minister since World War II.

He was seen as a man in predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's image - telegenic, outspoken and with a similar popular appeal to voters.

In the early days of his premiership he scored a number of political hits, achieving a high-level rapprochement with China and winning local support with a tough line on North Korea.

But a series of scandals and gaffes - both by him and his ministers - harmed the government, and his approval ratings fell dramatically.

A heavy loss for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party in upper house elections in July 2007 provided one of the catalyst for his decision to resign.

Sex slaves

A conservative, Mr Abe pushed for a more assertive foreign policy and a greater role for Japan on the world stage.

Under his administration, a bill passed setting out steps for holding a referendum on revising the country's pacifist constitution.

File image of Japanese troops in Kuwait
Mr Abe wants more prominence for Japan in the international arena
He staked his job on pushing through legislation extending Japan's controversial mission in support of US-led operations in Afghanistan in the face of fierce opposition in parliament.

In his resignation announcement, Mr Abe said he felt it would be easier to extend the mandate under a new leader.

During his tenure, Mr Abe also called for a greater sense of national pride and backed a law requiring the teaching of patriotism in schools.

"It has always been my conviction that children who are imparted with such a sense of values will grow up to be citizens who have ambitions," he said in December 2006.

But despite supporting his predecessor's visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine - which is seen by Japan's neighbours as a symbol of the country's past militarism - he did not visit it himself during his period in office, prioritising regional ties.

However, he provoked anger in China and South Korea when he said there was no evidence that women were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II.

He was forced to clarify his remarks and went on to issue an apology in parliament.

Voter concern

Mr Abe also struggled to contend with a series of ministerial gaffes and resignations.

His health minister drew criticism in January when he referred to women as "birth-giving machines".

A scandal-hit farm minister committed suicide in May and his defence minister resigned over controversial comments about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But most damaging to Mr Abe was the revelation that over the years the government lost pension records affecting about 50m claims.

Mr Abe pledged to shake up the department responsible for the mistakes and to sort out the mess by early next year.

But the issue worried and angered voters, many of whom started to question his leadership skills.

Ruling elite

Born in Nagato, Yamaguchi prefecture, Mr Abe is a member of a high-profile political family.

He is the son of Shintaro Abe, a former foreign minister, and grandson of former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, who was arrested as a suspected war criminal after World War II but never charged.

Mr Abe graduated in political science from Seikei University before studying politics at the University of Southern California.

His first job on returning to Japan was at Kobe Steel, before winning his first seat in parliament in 1993.

He went on to become Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and then secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2003.

He was appointed to the Cabinet for the first time in October 2005 and given the high-profile role of Chief Cabinet Secretary - a promotion seen as a sign that he was being groomed for the top leadership.

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