Unification Church promises reforms after Abe’s assassination

TOKYO — The Unification Church, whose close ties to Japan’s ruling party emerged after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, acknowledged on Thursday that it had accepted “excessive” donations from the suspect’s mother and that it must seriously consider doing so if it did to lead to killing.

Abe was shot dead during an outdoor campaign speech in July. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he killed Abe because of his apparent connection to a religious group he hated. A letter and social media posts attributed to him said his mother’s large donations to the church bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

Hideyuki Teshigawara, a senior official at the church, now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, told a news conference he was “deeply saddened” to hear Yamagami told police his anger at the church led to it have attack

Teshigawara said he is leading reforms in the church to ensure its recruitment and donations are not coerced or harmful to followers or their families.

The church has acknowledged that Yamagami’s mother has donated more than 100 million yen (US$700,000) to the group, including life insurance and real estate. It said it later returned about half at the request of the suspect’s uncle.

A lawyer for the church, Nobuya Fukumoto, said he thought Yamagami’s mother’s donations were “excessive” and that “if this distresses (the suspect) and leads to results, we must take it seriously.”

The police investigation into Abe’s murder led to revelations of widespread ties between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including Abe, and the South Korean-based church over their common interests in conservative causes.

An LDP poll found that nearly half of its lawmakers had ties to the church. Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has promised to sever all those ties, but many Japanese want another explanation of how the church may have influenced party politics.

Kishida has come under fire for his handling of the church controversy, for pushing ahead with plans for a state funeral for Abe, and support rates for his government have plummeted. Abe is one of Japan’s most divisive leaders, and plans for next Tuesday’s state funeral have become increasingly unpopular as more details emerged about the party’s and Abe’s ties to the church.

On Wednesday, a man set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office in protest at the state funeral. The man suffered severe burns but was taken to a hospital while he was conscious. The police spoke of an attempted suicide and refused to provide further information. According to media reports, he had a note expressing his opposition to the state funeral.

The attempted suicide amid heightened security was an embarrassment to police, who have already been accused of failing to adequately protect Abe.

State funerals for prime ministers are rare in Japan. Kishida said Abe deserves the honor as Japan’s longest-serving leader after World War II and for his diplomatic and economic achievements.

Critics say the plan for a state funeral was undemocratic, has no legal basis and is an inappropriate and costly use of taxpayers’ money. Political analysts say Kishida decided to hold a state funeral to please Abe’s party faction and bolster his own power.

A leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, Katsuya Okada, told a group of reporters on Thursday that there were many problems with holding a state funeral and that the party leadership would boycott the event.

“The most unfortunate thing is that the state funeral is being held despite the majority of people opposing it, which I think is also unfortunate for former Prime Minister Abe,” Okada said. “Prime Minister Kishida should have made a decision more carefully.”

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