Profile: Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his office in Tokyo on 1 October 2013. Mr Abe is known as a right-wing hawk who has advocated for Japan to have collective self-defence

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Shinzo Abe, 60, became Japan's prime minister in December 2012 after his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) landslide election win.

It was Mr Abe's second shot at the top job, after a brief term as prime minister in 2006-7.

He was then Japan's youngest leader since World War Two - but he stepped down less than a year later, citing ill health, as support for his administration plummeted.

Mr Abe came back to lead the country after the LDP and coalition partner New Komeito secured a majority in the lower house, ousting the ruling Democratic Party (DPJ).

"I have experienced failure as a politician and for that very reason, I am ready to give everything for Japan," he wrote in a magazine article ahead of the 2012 election.

Under him a raft of measures have been introduced to boost Japan's struggling economy. Ties with China, however, have been tense over territorial and historic disputes.

Popular appeal

The Yamaguchi-born lawmaker, known as a right-wing hawk, hails from a high-profile political family. His father, Shintaro Abe, was a former foreign minister and his grandfather was former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

Mr Abe won his first seat in parliament in 1993. Appointed to the cabinet for the first time in October 2005, he was given the high-profile role of chief cabinet secretary.

When he became prime minister a year later, he was seen as a man in predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's image - telegenic, outspoken and with a similar popular appeal to voters.

Mr Abe pushed for a more assertive foreign policy and a greater role for Japan on the world stage. He achieved a high-level rapprochement with China and won local support with a tough line on North Korea.

But a series of scandals and gaffes - both by him and his ministers - harmed the government.

This included his remarks saying there was no evidence that women were forced to become Japanese soldiers' sex slaves in World War Two, and the revelation that the government lost pension records affecting about 50 million claims.

A heavy loss for the LDP in upper house elections in July 2007 provided a catalyst for his decision to resign.

He stood down from the post in September of that year and disappeared from the political spotlight.

Second chance

With his return to Japan's political stage in 2012, he quickly expressed a strong stance on territorial rows with China and South Korea.

"Japan's beautiful seas and its territory are under threat, and young people are having trouble finding hope in the future amid economic slump," he said then.

"I promise to protect Japan's land and sea, and the lives of the Japanese people no matter what."

After taking office, he paid one visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's war dead, including war criminals, angering China and South Korea, and prompting a rare rebuke from the US.

Regional neighbours have also been unnerved by Mr Abe's continued push for Japan's right to collective self-defence, which is the use of force to defend allies under attack.

China-Japan relations chilled over such issues, as well as the continued dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

But ice-breaker talks with China's President Xi Jinping at the November 2014 Apec summit raised hopes of improved ties.

 In this 10 Nov 2014, file photo, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and China's President Xi Jinping, right, shake hands during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, in Beijing. Mr Abe and Mr Xi appeared reserved when they shook hands at the Apec summit in Beijing on 10 November

The two countries have agreed to work together and prevent their maritime dispute from escalating.

On the home front, Mr Abe began a series of measures known informally as "Abenomics" - monetary policy, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms - aimed at boosting Japan's long-stagnating economy.

The measures initially boosted GDP growth in 2013, but the economy has since contracted in three of the last four quarters, and is now in a technical recession.

One reason was the increase in sales tax in April, which has continued to affect private consumption.

A second increase was scheduled for 2015, but on 18 November Mr Abe said he was delaying that move and dissolving parliament to call early elections.

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