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Japan PM says security balance 'difficult' after attack

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida urged Japanese citizens to vote in by-elections this weekend. ©AFP

Tokyo (AFP) - Striking the right balance on security for politicians is "very difficult", Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in an interview Thursday, days after he escaped an attack unharmed while campaigning.

Security around officials was tightened after the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe last year, but a man was still able to throw an apparent pipe bomb towards Kishida on Saturday.

The incident shows "the challenge of how much distance politicians, candidates and voters should maintain", Kishida said in the interview with foreign media including AFP.

"It's a question that this incident has posed," he said."It's very difficult to strike the right balance."

Kishida was rushed from the scene at a port in western Japan's Wakayama after a man identified as 24-year-old Ryuji Kimura allegedly threw the apparently homemade explosive device.

The pipe-like object went off shortly afterwards, producing a loud bang and sending out thick white smoke.

The incident horrified the country, coming less than a year after a man shot Abe dead as he campaigned.

Kishida urged Japanese citizens to vote in by-elections scheduled for Sunday, as a display of their "resolute attitude" and to show the world "how Japan's democracy works".

"No reason should ever justify an attempt to use violence to stifle speech," he added.

"Elections at the core of democracy must never succumb to violence, and I continued with the campaign driven by the belief that we must follow through on it."

He also repeated a call for Japan to step up security as the country hosts Group of Seven ministerial meetings next month, "so that guests can visit Japan with peace of mind".

 'Help from ordinary citizens'

Earlier Thursday, Japan's police chief praised security personnel and ordinary people who wrestled Kishida's suspected attacker to the ground.

"Direct harm to Prime Minister Kishida was prevented due to actions such as protective steps by security personnel and help from ordinary citizens," National Police Agency head Yasuhiro Tsuyuki said.

But he said the local police force would "review its security practices from the viewpoint of what more could have been done".

Police are investigating if the explosive had lethal power, and local media has reported it might have contained metal nuts and possibly caused shrapnel to embed in a metal container about 60 metres (200 feet) away.

Kimura is under arrest but has reportedly refused to disclose any motive for the attack.

He filed a lawsuit against the government last year, which was reportedly a complaint about election laws requiring candidates to be 30 or older to seek upper house seats or at least 25 for lower house seats.

Kimura was not able to stand in last summer's upper house vote because of these rules, and because he was unable to provide a mandatory three million yen ($22,000) deposit, according to reports.

His lawsuit argued the age restrictions were unconstitutional.

Abe's alleged assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, reportedly targeted the politician over his links to the Unification Church.

Local media said Kimura had also criticised Abe's ties to the sect, and was opposed to the controversial state funeral given to the late leader.

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