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Japan's ruling party says half its MPs had Unification Church ties

The Unification Church is sometimes colloquially referred to as the "Moonies" after its Korean founder Sun Myung Moon. ©AFP

Tokyo (AFP) - Around half of Japan's ruling party lawmakers have had dealings with the Unification Church, an official said Thursday, after the assassination of ex-premier Shinzo Abe heightened scrutiny of the religious organisation also sometimes known as the Moonies.

The man suspected of shooting Abe dead in July allegedly targeted the former prime minister believing he was linked to the sect.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi said a probe found some lawmakers had accepted support for election campaigns from the church and its spin-off groups.

Other LDP lawmakers had attended meetings or paid fees to the organisation, whose members are sometimes colloquially referred to as "Moonies" after Korean founder Sun Myung Moon.

Of 379 elected LDP lawmakers, 179 "had some sort of links" with the Unification Church, Motegi told reporters.

"We take the results seriously.We honestly feel sorry, and we'll make sure the party no longer has any relationship at all" with the church, he said.

Last week, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said LDP members must cut ties with the group, following controversial revelations of its links with a raft of Japanese politicians.

The Unification Church has condemned Abe's murder and denied accusations of coercive fundraising tactics among its members, but Kishida's government has seen its approval ratings drop in recent weeks as more details have emerged.

"Nearly 90 percent" of LDP lawmakers that attended gatherings hosted by organisations linked to the church told the probe they were not aware of the hosts' affiliation, Motegi said.

"Our awareness was lacking, and that's all the more reason that more efforts need to be made to raise awareness" of the issue, he added.

Kishida's approval ratings have also fallen due to anger over a state funeral to be held for Abe on September 27, which the government expects to cost up to 1.7 billion yen ($12 million).

The assassination has reignited years of controversy over the Unification Church, including accusations that some of its believers went broke after making ruinous donations to the group.

Last month, the organisation's Japanese branch said it had "made concerted efforts to ensure that donations are not made which would be large in proportion to a person's assets".

The church says Abe was never a registered member or advisor, although he spoke at events organised by affiliated groups.

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