Japan honors assassinated Abe at controversial funeral

Sara Hussein - Agence France-Presse
Japan honors assassinated Abe at controversial funeral
In this file photo taken on April 21, 2015 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves as he leaves to Indonesia at the Tokyo International Airport in Tokyo. Abe has been confirmed dead after he was shot at a campaign event in the city of Nara on July 8, 2022, public broadcaster NHK and Jiji news agency reported.
AFP / Jiji Press

TOKYO, Japan — Thousands of Japanese and foreign dignitaries gather in Tokyo on Tuesday to honor assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe, at a rare state funeral that has sparked controversy and protest.

Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister and one of the country's most recognisable political figures, known for cultivating international alliances and his "Abenomics" economic strategy.

He resigned in 2020 over recurring health problems, but remained a key political voice and was campaigning for his ruling party when a lone gunman killed him on July 8.

The shooting sent shockwaves through a country with famously low gun crime and prompted international condemnation.

But the decision to give him a state funeral -- only the second for a former premier in the post-war period -- has provoked growing opposition, with around 60 percent of Japanese against the event in recent polls.

Abe's accused killer targeted the former leader believing he had ties to the Unification Church, which he resented over massive donations his mother had made to the sect.

The assassination prompted fresh scrutiny of the church and its fundraising, and uncomfortable questions for Japan's political establishment, with the ruling party admitting around half its lawmakers had links to the religious organisation.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged the party will sever all ties with the church, but the scandal has helped fuel discontent over the state funeral.

Thousands have protested the ceremony and a man set himself on fire near the prime minister's office, leaving notes reportedly expressing his objection to the event. Some lawmakers from opposition parties are also boycotting the funeral altogether.

The controversy has various causes, with some accusing Kishida of unilaterally approving the funeral instead of consulting parliament, and others resentful of a nearly $12 million price tag.

It is also the legacy of Abe's divisive tenure, marked by persistent allegations of cronyism, and opposition to his nationalism and plans to reform the pacifist constitution.


- Massive security operation -


Kishida's government may be hoping the solemnity of the event, attended by an estimated 4,300 people, including 700 foreign invitees, will drown out the controversy.

When Abe's family held an initial private funeral for him, thousands of Japanese turned out to pay respects, and many are expected to line up Tuesday morning to offer flowers near the funeral site at Tokyo's storied Budokan venue.

Abe's ashes are expected to arrive at the site to the sound of a 19-gun salute, and chief government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno will open the proceedings around 2 pm (0500 GMT) before the national anthem and a moment of silence.

Eulogies will follow from Kishida and politicians including Yoshihide Suga, who succeeded Abe after his resignation.

Japan's emperor and empress will not attend, as neutral national figures, but Crown Prince Akishino and his wife are expected to lead mourners in offering flowers at the end of the 90-minute service.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and world leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian premier Anthony Albanese will be in the crowd.

Abe worked to cultivate close ties with Washington to bolster the key US-Japanese alliance, and also courted a stronger "Quad" grouping Japan, the United States, India and Australia.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted to skip the event after the impact of Hurricane Fiona, meaning no sitting G7 leader will be present.

Still, the event will involve a massive security operation, accounting for a significant part of the estimated 1.7 billion yen cost of the funeral.

The security flaws that allowed a gunman to approach and kill Abe have prompted a policing overhaul, and local media reported that 20,000 police officers would be deployed for the funeral.

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