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Japan's Abe denies involvement in land deal as scandals mount

[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied involvement in a decision to let his close friend open a veterinary school, the latest in a series of government scandals undermining his bid to stay on as leader.

Mr Abe issued his denial in parliament after media reports that his interest to the school had been raised during local government discussions to give it a free plot of land.

The Asahi newspaper reported Tuesday that an Abe aide had referred to the project as "a matter relating to the prime minister" during a key 2015 meeting on the matter.

"There was absolutely no problem with the process of establishing this veterinary school," Mr Abe told a committee meeting Wednesday. "In addition, there is not a single person who received instructions from me."

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The veterinary school case is one of several scandals that have prompted responses from Mr Abe in recent weeks, as his approval rating approaches all-time lows. The controversies have raised question about Mr Abe's ability to win the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election in September. Victory would put him on track to be Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

On Monday, Mr Abe apologised in parliament over the apparent cover-up of documents relating to the dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq years ago.

Mr Abe said Wednesday he felt acutely responsible for the document problems and would do all in his power to restore trust.

Two surveys this week have shown his approval rate falling below disapproval. Broadcast news network JNN found disapproval rose 9.5 percentage points to 58.4 per cent, compared with the previous poll last month. Approval dropped by a similar margin to 40 per cent, roughly in line with other recent media polls. National broadcaster NHK found Mr Abe's support at 38 per cent and disapproval at 45 per cent.

Tokihiro Nakamura - governor of the prefecture that approved the veterinary school project - told a news conference Tuesday that local officials did write up details of the 2015 meeting attended by then-Abe aide Tadao Yanase. Still, Mr Nakamura said the document quoting Mr Yanase and printed in the Asahi newspaper hadn't been found.

Mr Yanase, who told parliament last year that he didn't recall the meeting, denied this week being present or making the remarks, Jiji news said.

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