TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has confirmed his resignation due to his deteriorating health, sparking a fall in Tokyo stock prices and a rise in the yen.

“I cannot be prime minister if I cannot make the best decisions for the people. I have decided to step down from my post,” Abe told reporters.

The 65-year-old told citizens he apologised “from the bottom of his heart” for not being able to fulfil his duties.

Abe, who is Japan’s longest serving prime minister, has suffered from the disease ulcerative colitis for a number of years.

But two recent hospital visits in one week sparked questions about whether he could stay in the job until the end of his term, which had been due to end in September 2021.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei fell 1.4 per cent after the departure was confirmed.

Abe’s resignation will trigger a leadership race in the Liberal Democratic Party, the winner of which must be formally elected in parliament.

The conservative prime minister was elected to a second term in December 2012, promising a mix of his trademark easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and reforms.

On Monday Abe surpassed the record for the country’s longest serving prime minister, which was set by his great uncle Eisaku Sato 50 years ago.

But he has come under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and has seen his support fall to one of the lowest levels of his tenure.