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Abe denies supporter in Diet told farm minister to resign for backing rival in party race

Shigeru Ishiba, left, and Shinzo Abe (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has denied a story told by his farm minister Ken Saito that a pro-Abe Diet member told Saito to resign if he was going to support Shigeru Ishiba, the contender against Abe in the Sept. 20 presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe denied the Saito's comment during a TV Asahi program on Sept. 17 featuring both the premier and Ishiba, former secretary general of the LDP. Ishiba rebutted Abe's denial, saying, "Mr. Saito is not the kind of person to make up a story."

In a Nippon TV (NTV) program earlier in the day, Abe had not denied Saito's account. "Things were much tougher in the past. You shouldn't flinch and you should have courage to go ahead," he said. Abe did not say the alleged pressure applied to Saito was problematic.

Ishiba commented that the demand for Saito's resignation was "wrong and does not serve the party well."

Meanwhile, during a Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) program, Abe spoke of the connection between himself and the head of Kake Educational Institution, a school operator embroiled in a favoritism scandal extending to the prime minister. Abe, a longtime friend of the school head, said it was not a case of him becoming friends with the head of the institution after interests surfaced."

Ishiba pointed out that even longtime friends should not contact each other when one of them has the authority to treat the other favorably. Abe responded that he did not know if Kake was seeking government approval to open a veterinary school in western Japan.

Abe also gave comments on Mio Sugita, an LDP legislator who has faced criticism for attacking sexual minorities -- such as those identifying themselves as LGBT -- telling a magazine that they were "not productive." The prime minister denied there was any need for the 51-year-old lawmaker to resign as a Diet member. He said she is "still young" but should be "careful" in carrying out her duties. Abe, nevertheless, said, "My wife and I do not have a child and we feel pain" when hearing a remark like Sugita's. "She should say things considering how her remarks hurt others."

On Sept. 17, Abe made a speech in the northern Japan city of Aomori while Ishiba stumped in Tokyo's posh Ginza district. The two were originally scheduled to have a joint speech session in Ginza on Sept. 8, but the event was postponed due to a major earthquake that hit Hokkaido in northern Japan.

(Japanese original by Keiko Takahashi and Minami Nomaguchi, Political News Department)

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