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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has planned to step down “because of health issues”, state media reported on Friday.

According to a report in NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, Abe, 65, is scheduled to hold a news conference at 5 p.m. to provide further details of his decision.

The development comes after rumours about the premier’s deteriorating health were amplified by his two trips to the Keio University Hospital in Tokyo within a week.

Abe’s first admission to the hospital on August 17 for what was described at the time as a “health check-up” that lasted for more than seven hours.

On Monday, Abe revisited the hospital to receive the results of the check-up and underwent more tests, lasting four hours, reports Xinhua news agency.

Also that day, he became Japan’s longest-serving leader with the most consecutive days in office at 2,799.

If confirmed, this will be the second time that the Prime Minister will step down from his post over a medical issue.

He resigned in 2007 because of an inflammatory bowel disease, after only serving a year in office, NHK reported.

He returned to the top job in 2012 after a landslide election win in the Lower House.

Abe, prior to his health condition, was set to spend one more year at the helm.

Meanwhile, with the premier set to resign, the race to find his replacement is intensifying, The Japan Times said in a report.

On Friday, before news of Abe’s resignation broke, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told TV programme that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is a strong candidate to succeed Abe.

“He has great capabilities,” said Nikai. “He has the ability to endure in the post.”

But Nikai also added that LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida and former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba were also possible contenders.

In a Kyodo survey conducted over the weekend, 23.3 per cent said Ishiba should become the next Prime Minister, while 11 per cent said Abe should stay on.

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi followed with 8.4 per cent, Defence Minister Taro Kono was at 7.9 per cent and Kishida was at 2.8 per cent.

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