Shinzo Abe funeral: Japan holds controversial state funeral for slain leader
Japan bid farewell to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an elaborate state funeral on Tuesday, despite public opposition to the cost of the event as the country grapples with the legacy of its late leader.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot during a campaign speech in Nara in July, stunning a nation where gun violence is extremely rare.
More than 4,300 guests are expected to attend the service at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Arena, including foreign dignitaries such as US Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Abe’s ashes were carried into the hall, where the government released a tribute video honoring his life and career. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida then gave a memorial speech, praising Abe’s « courage » and dedication.
Other government figures, including former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga – who served as Abe’s right-hand man for many years – also made remarks, before attendees laid offerings of flowers and waved. bow in turn.
Other ceremonial rites on the program include a guard of honor, a gun salute and musical performances, before a government reception for visiting foreign dignitaries.
Police have tightened security, with public broadcaster NHK reporting that around 20,000 police will be deployed to keep the peace. But altercations still broke out between the police and protesters outside the funeral site.
On Tuesday morning, crowds of people lined up outside designated memorial sites to lay flowers and pay their last respects to Abe, who dominated Japanese politics for a generation.
But as they wept, more than 1,000 other people took to the streets to protest the funeral, illustrating deep public division on the first state funeral for a Japanese leader since 1967.
Crowds chanted as they marched near the funeral site, with waved banners calling for a halt to the proceedings. Protest leaders rallied the crowd through loudspeakers and a van drove by with music from a boom box.
Demonstrations have grown tense at times, with several loud clashes and scuffles between protesters and police.
Since Abe’s assassination, the country has faced rising inflation and revelations that half of Japan’s ruling party members had ties to the controversial Unification Church, which has faced backlash about fundraising practices, prompting the church to commit to reforms to ensure donations are « not excessive ». ”
Some critics pointed to Abe’s unpopular policies as cause for discontent, and wondered why so much taxpayer money was going to the state funeral – which will cost some $12 million (1.66 billion yen) – at a time of acute economic stress.
« It was a tragedy that Abe was shot and lost his life, but we shouldn’t make him a hero of this tragedy, » one protester, Shinsaku Nohira, told CNN during an interview. recent anti-state funeral demonstration in front of the Japanese parliament.
« At least half of the Japanese people are against this state funeral, so I don’t want government messages to go out, I want people to know that there are citizens in Japan who oppose this event. . »
An opinion poll by NHK earlier in September showed 57% of those polled oppose a state funeral, compared to 32% who support it – and the rest either said they didn’t know or declined to answer.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tried to appease the public, saying a state funeral for Abe was « appropriate » given his achievements as a former leader. The ceremony is not meant to « make people cry » or become a « political issue », he said in August.
Abe served in office for two separate terms, during which he transformed Japan’s security posture, raising questions about the country’s status as a peace-loving nation, and passed major security legislation in 2015 that expanded what Japan could do militarily to support the United States.
He was also a figurehead on the world stage, cultivating close ties with Washington and seeking better relations with Beijing – while trying to counter Chinese expansion in the region by uniting Pacific allies.
One of his last successes in power was securing the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 – although the Covid-19 pandemic forced the competition to be postponed to 2021.
After stepping down in 2020, citing health reasons, Abe has remained active in politics, often campaigning for his party – which he was doing at the time of his assassination.
NHK reported in July that the suspected shooter, Tetsuya Yamagami, had targeted the former prime minister because he believed Abe’s grandfather – another former Japanese leader – had helped expand a group monk against whom he was angry.
CNN was unable to independently confirm which group Yamagami was referring to or Abe’s ties to any group the suspect harbored hatred towards.
– Source: CNNI
Controversial church under microscope after assassination
But the assassination prompted a backlash against the Unification Church, which said Yamagami’s mother had been a member and had attended religious events, although Yamagami himself had never been a member. .
He also said the church received a message of support from Abe at an event it hosted, but the former prime minister was not a registered member of the church and he did not sit on its advisory board either.
Abe’s death sent shockwaves through Japan and the international community, with thousands of mourners gathering in Tokyo in July as his private funeral took place.