Shintaro Abe, Japanese Political Leader

TOKYO - Shintaro Abe, who led Japan's ruling party and served as foreign minister at the height of the nation's transformation into a global economic power, died early today at age 67, officials said.

Mr. Abe died of heart failure at Tokyo's Juntendo University Hospital, officials of the Liberal Democratic Party said. His health had been failing since he underwent bile duct surgery two years ago.

Mr. Abe's long quest for the premiership was derailed two years ago by a stock scandal and then illness.

Mr. Abe became a political reporter for the national newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, but abandoned journalism for politics in 1957, when he was recruited by then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi to be his legislative aide. Mr. Abe married Kishi's daughter, and won his father's parliamentary seat in Yamaguchi prefecture in 1958, beginning a steady climb up the political ladder.

He served as foreign minister under Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone for five years in the mid-1980s. During the period, Japan completed its transformation to an industrial powerhouse that would challenge the United States for global economic supremacy.

Mr. Abe is credited with helping his friend and ally Noboru Takeshita succeed Nakasone in 1987.

In return for that support, Takeshita assured Mr. Abe that he would be the next prime winister.

But that scenario collapsed in 1988 when both men were implicated in the Recruit scandal, a major influence-peddling case.

Takeshita was forced to resign, and Mr. Abe fell from the center stage of politics.