• Reuters, Jiji

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Worries over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s health are mounting among lawmakers from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party ahead of his news conference Friday, and sources familiar with the situation say he will consult with doctors before facing reporters.

Abe plans to hold the news conference on Friday afternoon, the sources said Wednesday. He is expected to provide an explanation about his health after his two recent hospital visits and talk about the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The consultations with the doctors on Friday could involve another visit to the hospital or may be carried out by phone, the sources said. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Abe has been to hospital twice in the last two weeks, including one visit of over 7 hours. He has not detailed what the visits were for, instead saying he wanted to take care of his health and do his utmost at his job.

Abe’s close ruling Liberal Democratic Party ally, Akira Amari, sought to dispel qualms over Abe’s health on Tuesday, telling Reuters he looked better than in mid-August and would likely fulfill his tenure until September next year.

His remarks were echoed on Wednesday by the Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who said Abe looked a “bit tired” over the last two weeks but seemed “very well” on Tuesday and “gave us various instructions in the usual manner.”

“We want him to continue to look after his health and show us his leadership,” Kyodo News quoted Nishimura as saying during a parliamentary committee meeting.

Abe, the country’s longest serving prime minister, has been in the role since 2012. He resigned abruptly from an earlier term in 2007 because of struggles with ulcerative colitis, a disease he has kept in check with medicine that was not previously available.

LDP lawmakers are jittery about Abe’s health, as the prime minister, who doubles as LDP president, has the authority to select party executives and dissolve the House of Representatives. The current term for LDP executives expires late next month, and that of Lower House members in October 2021.

One senior LDP official phoned a close aide to Abe several days ago to ask about the leader’s health. The official, who did not visit the prime minister’s office to meet the aide in person over fears that it might cause a stir, stopped short of revealing what the aide said over the phone, saying only that Abe is “not sick enough to warrant a resignation,” adding that he “can continue his duties while making hospital visits.”

The recent wave of concern about the prime minister’s health arose around July, after this year’s regular Diet session ended the previous month, with people around Abe saying that his complexion had worsened and that he looked tired. The apparent downturn in his health comes at a time when the prime minister is dealing with the added burden of the novel coronavirus epidemic.

Rumors about Abe’s health exploded when he underwent a medical examination on Aug. 17 at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo.

After another examination at the hospital on Monday, Abe said in front of television cameras that he will do all he can to manage his health and work hard again.

But many insiders, including party heavyweights who have recently met Abe in person, remain skeptical over an issue that is shrouded in secrecy.

Even if Abe explains in detail the results of the medical examinations and denies any health worries at Friday’s press conference, concerns about his condition may linger.

“We can’t know from the outside if something is wrong with the prime minister’s body, nor can we know what he feels on the inside,” LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, who met with Abe last week, said Tuesday.

“Only he himself and his attending physician know the truth,” a senior member of Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, said.

Criticized for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak and for his link to a number of scandals, Abe has suffered a slide in voter support to one of the lowest levels since returning to office with promises to revive the economy and bolster defense.

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