• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has conditionally agreed to an opposition demand for him to attend an ad hoc Diet committee session to address allegations of favoritism, the Liberal Democratic Party said.

The agreement comes after his conservative party previously rebuffed the request.

“After I told the prime minister we had refused, he said he is willing to appear at the Diet himself and give an explanation,” LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Wataru Takeshita told reporters Thursday, adding that the session is likely to take place next week or later.

But Takeshita signaled that the LDP will agree to hold the budget committee session only if ruling party lawmakers are allowed more speaking time than opposition lawmakers.

Earlier Thursday, Takeshita conveyed the LDP’s refusal to Kazunori Yamanoi, his counterpart from the main opposition Democratic Party, which requested Abe’s presence.

Lawmakers held parliamentary sessions on Monday to discuss the favoritism allegations, but Abe was in Europe, prompting the Democratic Party to propose holding another committee session with Abe in attendance.

At Monday’s sessions, former top education ministry bureaucrat Kihei Maekawa repeated that the prime minister’s office was involved in the approval process for a new veterinary school sought by Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution) in a government-designated special economic zone in Shikoku.

Kotaro Kake, chairman of the school operator in question, is a close friend of the prime minister.

Maekawa, former vice minister of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, did not offer fresh evidence related to the matter. Government officials, including Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda, denied Maekawa’s claims during the sessions.

Abe has come under fire over suspicions he used his influence to secure the approval of Japan’s first new veterinary medicine department in half a century. It was to be built in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

Suspicions have continued to swirl since leaked documents emerged hinting that officials in the Cabinet Office, which oversees the special economic zones, pressured the education ministry into selecting Kake. Abe’s team initially denied the documents existed or were authentic. But Maekawa vouched for the documents, which were later found at the ministry, and said he was willing to give sworn testimony in the Diet to that effect.

The scandal has hit the Abe Cabinet’s approval ratings and contributed to the LDP’s crushing defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election this month.

The Diet closed for the summer on June 18 but is holding the special sessions to get to the bottom of the favoritism allegations.

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