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Abe admits recommending inviting specific people to controversial sakura parties in Tokyo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a policy speech at a House of Representatives plenary session on Jan. 20, 2020. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted in a Diet session on Jan. 28 that he had occasionally recommended that specific individuals be invited to annual cherry blossom-viewing parties he hosted, adding that he sometimes consulted with his wife over the selection of invitees.

"There were occasions in which I conveyed my opinions when consulted by my office. I sometimes advised my office to recommend those who I was aware made outstanding achievements in various fields," he told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Jan. 28.

"I also sought opinions from my wife on some occasions from the viewpoint of grasping a wide diversity of figures who're active in many fields," Abe said. He was responding to questions from Junya Ogawa, a legislator belonging to a parliamentary alliance led by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP).

The annual parties have stirred controversy due to a lack of transparency in the selection of guests and the fact that many of Abe's supporters from his home constituency were invited. Critics have raised questions as to whether Prime Minister Abe used the taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing parties for his private purposes by inviting a large number of people connected to him and his wife Akie.

The Budget Committee session also touched on an upcoming state visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Abe said he would use the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Tokyo and Beijing are determined to join hands in contributing to world peace and prosperity.

"Japan and China have a responsibility to build world peace, stability and prosperity. We'd like to make the visit an opportunity to demonstrate that the two countries are determined to firmly fulfill this responsibility," he said, in response to questions from Kensuke Onishi, a member of the Democratic Party for the People that is also part of the alliance.

A supplementary budget draft for fiscal 2019 was set to clear the panel and a plenary session of the lower chamber later on Jan. 28.

(Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara, Political News Department)

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