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Japan Cabinet approves bill to allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate

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TOKYO — Japan`s cabinet on Friday approved a bill to allow Emperor Akihito to hand over the Chrysanthemum Throne to Crown Prince Naruhito in what would be Japan’s first abdication in roughly 200 years.

The 83-year-old emperor, who has had heart surgery and prostate cancer treatment, said in rare public remarks last year he feared age might make it hard for him to fulfil his duties.

Akihito has sought to soothe the wounds at home and abroad of World War Two, which was fought in his father Hirohito`s name, and to bring the imperial family closer to the Japanese people. He will be succeeded by Crown Prince Naruhito, 57.

The bill will be sent to parliament, where lawmakers are aiming to pass it before the current session ends next month.

“The government hopes for the smooth passage of the legislation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

While no definite plan for an abdication has been confirmed, media have said it will likely take place in late 2018, which would mark nearly 30 full years on the throne for the emperor.

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Abdication is not possible under current law and the last time an emperor stepped down was in 1817.

The bill is one-off legislation that would allow only Akihito to step down, with no provisions for future emperors.

It also makes no reference to the controversial issue of changing the system to allow women to inherit the throne, or to stay in the imperial family upon marriage, Japanese media said, although political parties are discussing a separate resolution on the topic.

Both steps have been suggested as ways to deal with a shortage of male heirs and a shrinking pool of royals generally, a problem thrust back into the limelight this week, with news that Akihito`s eldest granddaughter will marry a commoner, after which she too must become a commoner.

There are only four heirs in the line of succession — Akihito`s two middle-aged sons, Akihito`s octogenarian brother, and Hisahito, the 10-year-old son of Akihito`s younger son.

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China conduct live fire drill along southeast coastline

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BEIJING — China’s military has conducted live-fire drills along the southeast coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.

Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was happening on China’s southeast coast.

State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles.

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The exercises took place from 8 a.m. (0000GMT) until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.

The Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exercise, and whether it was the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling” to threaten the island.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

China claims Taiwan as its own and considers it a breakaway province.

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