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Japan PM Abe calls opposition legislator with ALS a friend in policy speech

Reiwa Shinsengumi legislator Yasuhiko Funago, right, listens to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's general policy speech in the Diet on Oct. 4, 2019. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced Reiwa Shinsengumi legislator Yasuhiko Funago, who is largely paralyzed due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as his "friend" in his general policy speech at the start of the extraordinary Diet session on Oct. 4.

"Fifteen years ago, I met a person who suffers from ALS," Abe said of his first encounter with the now 62-year-old Funago, who was elected to the House of Councillors in July. "I sincerely congratulate Funago on his victory in the election as my friend."

The prime minister also spoke on how Funago began playing a specially modified guitar in his band after showing ALS symptoms in his 40s while managing an elder care business. Abe then appealed to Diet members to "create a society where people recognize diversity and everyone can take advantage of their personal traits."

It is unusual for a prime minister to name an opposition legislator in a speech on the basic policy direction of the national government. Oct. 4 was Funago's birthday.

According to Funago's office, he bumped into Abe at a roadside speech for a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker in 2003 and that they have exchanged e-mails since then.

Funago commented on the prime minister's speech, "I understood that it showed his determination and preparedness to realize a society where people both with and without disabilities can be happy."

(Japanese original by Kenta Miyahara and Shinya Hamanaka, Political News Department)

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