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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Japan's ruling party chooses Abe
Shinzo Abe during his final campaign in Tokyo
Shinzo Abe has been the front-runner from the beginning
Japan's ruling party has chosen top government spokesman Shinzo Abe as its next leader, and the country's most likely next prime minister.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) voted by 464, out of 703 votes, for Mr Abe to succeed current Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr Abe, 51, Chief Cabinet Secretary, was the strong front-runner to take the top post.

Parliament is expected to confirm him as prime minister next week.

The LDP has governed Japan almost without interruption since 1955. Though broadly conservative, it contains competing factions who field candidates for the top job.

Popular

Mr Abe is the son of a former foreign minister and grandson of a former prime minister. At 51, he is considered young to be a Japanese cabinet minister.

LEADERSHIP TIMELINE
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He won because he is so popular, not just in the party but in the country as a whole, the BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says.

Many LDP lawmakers will be hoping that popularity will help them retain their seats when they seek re-election, our correspondent adds.

Mr Abe had the backing of the current prime minister, Mr Koizumi.

But questions remain about which way he might take the country.

According to our correspondent, some say he is a right winger, a hawk; others contend that he is a pragmatist, a realist, keen for Japan to be more assertive abroad but aware of the need to improve the country's poor relations with its neighbours.


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