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Japan's Emperor Akihito to stand down in 2019

Japan's Emperor Akihito will abdicate in 2019 - becoming the first emperor to step down in more than two centuries.

Akihito's elder son Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the throne a day after the renunciation of the throne on April 30 2019.

The decision was made on Friday at a meeting of the Imperial House Council, which included politicians, judicial officials and imperial family members.

Legislation allowing Akihito to abdicate within three years was enacted in Japan earlier this year after Akihito expressed his apparent wish to leave the throne in August 2016, citing his age and health.

"I feel deeply moved that the decision was made smoothly by the Imperial House Council, marking a major step toward an imperial succession," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the timing was chosen so that Akihito can abdicate at the age of 85 after reaching his 30th anniversary on the throne.

Late April is also appropriate for many Japanese to embrace the change of an era after settling down from a busy period of travel and job transfers around April 1, the beginning of a new fiscal year.

Akihito's desire to leave the throne revived a debate about the country's 2,000-year-old monarchy, one of the world's oldest, as well as discussion about improving the status of female members of the shrinking royal population.

The current male-only succession rules prohibit women from succeeding to the Chrysanthemum Throne and female members lose their royal status when they marry a commoner.

Akihito was 56 years old when he ascended the throne in January 1989 after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, beginning the Heisei Era.

The legislation for Akihito's case was needed because the 1947 Imperial House Law does not provide for abdication.

The last emperor to abdicate was Kokaku in 1817.

AP

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