Japan’s Abe sticks to denials as scandal doubts keep swirling

Shinzo Abe has denied that he ever instructed officials to give preferential treatment for the establishment of Japan’s first new veterinary school in more than 50 years. (Reuters)
Updated 11 April 2018
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Japan’s Abe sticks to denials as scandal doubts keep swirling

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied on Wednesday that he had intervened to secure preferential treatment for a friend’s plan to set up a veterinary school despite new reports he had discussed the matter with the friend.
Abe’s ratings have taken a hit because of several scandals over suspected cronyism and cover-ups, with a steady stream of new allegations raising doubts about how long he can stay in power.
One of the scandals involves suspicion Abe helped a friend, Kotaro Kake, director of school operator Kake Gakuen, set up a veterinary school in a special economic zone exempt from a rule limiting the number of such schools.
Abe has denied that he ever instructed officials to give preferential treatment for the establishment of Japan’s first new veterinary school in more than 50 years.
Abe repeated to a parliamentary panel on Wednesday his assertion that he only became aware of Kake’s proposal when it was approved in January 2017.
His was replying to questions after media this week cited an April 2015 memo from an official in Ehime prefecture, where the school ultimately opened in the special government-designated deregulation zone, that said Kake and Abe had discussed the proposal while sharing a meal.
“No one received instructions from me. There was no problem with the (approval) process,” Abe told the parliamentary panel in response to a question about the memo.
Asked repeatedly whether he had at least had casual talks about the plan with Kake, Abe said his friend had neither consulted him nor asked for favors.
“He said he wanted to take on a new challenge, but we never discussed specifics,” Abe said.
The veterinary schools affair, which emerged last year, is one of several suspected cronyism scandals and cover-ups eroding Abe’s support as he eyes a third term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader in a September vote.
Victory in the party poll would set Abe, who took office in 2012, on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier.
Abe has also denied that he or his wife intervened in the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to another school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties to Abe’s wife, Akie.
The finance ministry has admitted doctoring documents related to the murky deal.
Separately, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera apologized again on Wednesday after the military found missing troop activity logs.
Among recently lost-and-found records are those from a controversial 2004-2006 deployment to Iraq. The logs could shed light on whether the dispatch was to a “non-combat” zone as asserted by the government at the time, in line with constitutional limits on military activities abroad.


Greta Thunberg to US Congress: ‘Don’t listen to me, listen to the scientists’

Updated 7 min 33 sec ago

Greta Thunberg to US Congress: ‘Don’t listen to me, listen to the scientists’

WASHINGTON: Teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who has inspired a global movement for climate change, delivered a pointed message before a US congressional hearing on Wednesday: “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.”
The 16-year old founder of the “Fridays For Future” weekly school walkouts to demand government climate-change action submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the hearing in lieu of testimony. It urged rapid, unprecedented changes to the way people live in order to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by 2030.
“People in general don’t seem to be aware of how severe the crisis” is, Thunberg said, urging lawmakers to “unite behind the science” and take action, pleading that people treat climate change “like the existential crisis it is.”
Thunberg was one of four students invited to a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, to provide the next generation’s views on climate change.
She has been in Washington since last week to join US and indigenous activists to build up support for a global climate strike on Friday and pressure lawmakers to take action on climate change.
At the hearing on Wednesday was also 21-year-old conservative climate-change advocate Benji Backer. He told lawmakers that young conservatives also favor climate change action, but through an approach focused on technology and allowing the continued use of fossil fuels.
“As a proud American, as a life-long conservative and as a young person, I urge you to accept climate change for the reality it is and respond accordingly. We need your leadership,” he said.
While he praised Thunberg and other climate activists for putting the issue at the forefront of politics, he said there was time to take more measured action.
In addition to meetings on Capitol Hill, Thunberg met former President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Obama described the teenager on Twitter as “already one of the planet’s greatest advocates.”
Later on Wednesday, she will join seven young Americans who have sued the US government for failing to take action on climate change on the steps of the Supreme Court. They will urge political leaders and lawmakers to support their legal fight and take action to phase out the use of fossil fuels.
At the panel, Republican representatives praised the students for raising awareness about climate change but disagreed over what action the US should take.
Representative Garret Graves from Louisiana, said his state was affected by rising sea levels and that he supported the US emission reduction target enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement, but he criticized the pact for allowing emerging economies like China to continue to emit greenhouse gases.
“I think that signing on to an agreement...that allows for China to have a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030 is inappropriate,” he said.
Thunberg responded that in her home country, Sweden, people similarly criticize the United States for not taking enough action.
Another activist on the panel, 17-year-old Jamie Margolin from Seattle, called out lawmakers for taking too long to enact climate change policies.
“The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today pleading for a livable earth should not fill you with pride; it should fill you with shame,” she said.