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Japan cabinet approves bill to allow emperor to abdicate

Japan cabinet approves bill to allow emperor to abdicate

In a historic move, the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday approved a bill allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate the Chrysanthemum throne and hand over duties to Crown Prince Naruhito.

Akihito, who is 83, gave strong hints last August that he was thinking of stepping down because health and age were making it hard to perform his official duties. Next in line for succession is Crown Prince Naruhito, who is 57.

Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga says he expected smooth passage of the abdication bill, which would only apply to Akihito. The current imperial household law, passed in 1947, has no provision for abdication.

The Emperor's Birthday holiday on December 23 will be changed to February 23, the birthday of Crown Prince Naruhito, said the bill.

Historically, abdication of Japanese emperors was common, with about half of the 125 Japanese emperors having abdicated.

There has been no definite plan when the emperor will step down, but local media reports suggest that the government envisions late 2018 as a possible timing for his abdication.

He has been treated for prostate cancer and also had heart surgery.

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The discussion about the role of royal women arose again this week when it was announced that Princess Mako - Akihito's eldest grandchild - was to be engaged to a commoner.

Akihito's abdication request, however, has concerned many scholars and politicians who argue that the changing the law to allow any emperor to abdicate would risk Japan's monarchs becoming subject to political manipulation.

They are expected to move to Togu Palace where the crown prince and his family now live, and the new emperor's family will move to the Imperial Palace, said the bill.

Only men are allowed to become emperor under current law, though Japan has been ruled by empresses in past centuries. But, after that there are no more eligible male members.

The bill also did not mention about the imperial family allowing women to stay in the palace upon marriage, Reuters noted.

Reports of the 83-year-old Akihito's desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged July 2016.

Mako's younger brother, 10-year-old Prince Hisato, is the only male member of his generation.

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