Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has resigned due to ill health.
Mr Abe has battled the disease ulcerative colitis for years and said his health had declined around the middle of last month.
Two recent hospital visits within a week fanned questions on whether he could stay in the job until the end of his term as ruling party leader, and hence, premier, in September 2021.
In a news conference the 65-year-old PM said: “I cannot be prime minister if I cannot make the best decisions for the people. I have decided to step down from my post.”
He also apologised to citizens from the bottom of his heart for not being able to fulfil his duties.
The resignation will trigger a leadership race in the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), the winner of which must be formally elected in parliament.
The new party leader will hold the post for the rest of the PM’s term.
As news of the announcement spread, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei average fell 2.12% to 22,717.02, while the broader Topix shed 1% to 1,599.70.
The selling wiped $4.7bn off Tokyo’s $5.7trn stock market value, which had more than doubled during Mr Abe’s tenure.
The conservative Mr Abe returned as prime minister for a rare second term in December 2012, pledging to revive growth with his “Abenomics” mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and reforms.
He also pledged to beef up Japan’s defences and aimed to revise the pacifist constitution.
On Monday, he surpassed a record for longest consecutive tenure as premier set by his great-uncle Eisaku Sato half a
Mr Abe has acknowledged having ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager and has said the condition was controlled with treatment.
After his hospital visits were reported, top officials from his cabinet and the ruling party said the leader was overworked and badly needed rest.
The PM’s support ratings were already at their lowest levels due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on the economy, on top of a slew of political scandals.
Mr Abe resigned from his first stint as prime minister in 2007, citing ill-health after a year plagued by scandals in his
cabinet and a huge election loss for his ruling party.
He had since kept his illness in check with medicine that was not previously available.