Japan's longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced Friday he is resigning from office because of a health problem.

    The Japanese leader spoke with reporters about his decision. He said, "Faced with the illness and treatment, as well as the pain of lacking physical strength...I decided I should not stay on as prime minister when I'm no longer capable of living up to the people's expectations with confidence."

    Abe has long battled ulcerative colitis, a chronic, or long-lasting, bowel disease. This summer, he visited a Tokyo hospital two weeks in a row for medical exams. Abe said he now has a new treatment. But there is no guarantee that it will cure his condition, so he decided to resign as prime minister after treatment next Monday.

    "It is gut wrenching to have to leave my job before accomplishing my goals," Abe said Friday. He noted his failure to settle the issue of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia, and amending Japan's constitution.

    Abe's resignation marks the end of a period of stability in a country famously known for changing prime ministers.

    During his years in office, Abe pulled Japan out of an economic recession, although the coronavirus crisis has weakened the economy. He built up strong ties with the United States and President Donald Trump, but Abe's support of nationalist policies unsettled China, as well as North and South Korea. His goal of rewriting the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution failed because of poor public support.

    Although Abe is leaving office with some of his political goals unfinished, he continued to expand Japan's defense capability to react to the needs of the United States.

    "For those who believe the Japan-U.S. alliance is paramount, that was his major achievement," said Koichi Nakano, an international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

    Abe is expected to stay on until a new party leader is elected and approved by the parliament.

    Shinzo Abe is from a family long active in politics. His grandfather was former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

    Abe became Japan's youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52. The term ended a year later because of his health. He returned to power in December 2012. In all, he won six straight national elections.

    This coming Monday, Abe will become Japan's longest-serving prime minister, in terms of consecutive days in office. He will break the record of Eisaku Sato, his great-uncle, who served 2,798 consecutive days as prime minster from 1964 to 1972.

    After his recent hospital visits were reported, top officials from Abe's Cabinet and the ruling party said he was overworked and badly needed rest.

    There are several politicians interested in becoming prime minister. They include Shigeru Ishiba, a 63-year-old former defense minister, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Taro Kono, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, and economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

    Abe said he will focus on his treatment for now and "continue his political activity and support a new administration as a lawmaker."

    I'm Bryan Lynn.