Japanese say final goodbye to slain former leader Abe | world news
By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese bid a final farewell to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday when his funeral was held at a temple days after his assassination, shocking the nation.
Abe, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, has remained influential after resigning for ill health two years ago. He was gunned down during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara on Friday.
Hundreds of people, some in formal dark suits, filled the sidewalks outside Zojoji Temple in downtown Tokyo to bid farewell to Abe, whose nationalist views have spurred the ruling party’s conservative policies.
Mourners took pictures and some shouted “Abe san!” as a motorcade carrying the hearse carrying his body, accompanied by his widow Akie Abe, slowly drove past the packed crowd.
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“I think there were a lot of things he left unfinished as a politician,” public broadcaster NHK quoted Akie Abe as saying. “But he has sown many seeds and I am sure they will sprout.”
Abe’s longtime ally and mentor, Treasury Secretary Taro Aso, described him as “the most talented politician in post-war Japan who enhanced Japan’s international standing.”
About 1,000 people, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, top party leaders and foreign officials, attended the funeral at the temple.
Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching-te also attended in a private capacity, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported, prompting a formal protest from China. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and rejects any expression of its independent political identity.
The hearse drove through Tokyo’s main political district, Nagata-cho, where Abe spent more than three decades after being first elected to Parliament in 1991. He then drove slowly past the ruling party’s headquarters, where high-ranking MPs in dark suits stood outside praying. before going to the prime minister’s office, where Abe served a total of almost a decade.
Kishida and the cabinet members pressed their hands to their chests as they prayed and bowed to the hearse heading to a crematorium.
On Sunday, two days after Abe’s assassination, his Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner won a landslide victory in elections to the upper house, the weakest of the two houses of parliament.
That could allow Kishida to rule uninterrupted until a scheduled election in 2025. But Abe’s death also opens up a period of uncertainty for his party. Experts say a power struggle within Abe’s party faction is certain and could affect Kishida’s rise to power.
Kishida has stressed the importance of party unity after Abe’s death.
The assassination of Abe has rocked Japan, one of the safest nations in the world with some of the strictest gun laws.
The suspect, Tetsyua Yamagami, was arrested on the spot on Friday and is being held at a local prosecutor’s office for further investigation. They can hold him for up to three weeks while they decide whether to formally charge him.
Police said Yamagami cited an alleged connection between Abe and an organization the suspect hated as a motive for the murder. According to media reports, the organization was the Unification Church and Yamagami disliked it because his mother’s donations to the group had bankrupted his family.
The leader of the Japanese branch of the South Korean church, known for its anti-Communist stance and mass marriages, confirmed Monday that the mother was a member. He said Abe wasn’t, but may have spoken at groups associated with the church.
Police inspected a building related to the church in Nara this week after the suspect told investigators he had fired a test shot with a homemade gun there the day before the assassination. They found several holes in the building that are believed to be bullet holes, NHK and other Japanese media reported.
On Tuesday, National Police Agency chief Itaru Nakamura said police had failed in their responsibilities to protect Abe. “I feel deep regret and shame,” he said. He told reporters that the agency will set up a task force to review guard procedures.
Abe, the son of a former prime minister, became Japan’s youngest head of state in 2006 at the age of 52. He left office after a year due to ill health, but returned to power in 2012.
He promised to revitalize the nation and lift its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.
His long-cherished goals, shared by other ultraconservatives, were to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, drafted by the United States after World War II, and to transform the Japan Self-Defense Forces into a full-fledged military.
Abe, who was 67, left office in 2020, citing a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, which he had had since he was a teenager.
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