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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Justin McCurry in Tokyo

Shinzo Abe funeral: world figures fly in to political storm over state service for Japan former PM

Shinzo Abe in 2013
Shinzo Abe in 2013. The state funeral for the assassinated former Japanese prime minister is to be held in Tokyo on Tuesday. Photograph: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images

The US vice-president, Kamala Harris, the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, and British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, will be among foreign dignitaries arriving in Japan to attend a state funeral for the assassinated former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, despite strong public opposition to the ceremony.

They will be among about 700 people from overseas, including 50 former and current leaders, who are expected to attend the funeral in Tokyo on Tuesday, almost three months after Abe was shot dead while making a campaign speech.

Public opinion was split when, six days after Abe’s death, the prime minister, Fumio Kishida, said his predecessor would be afforded a state funeral.

But opposition has intensified in recent weeks, amid a torrent of revelations about ties between Abe’s Liberal Democratic party (LDP) – now led by Kishida – and the Unification church.

The suspect in Abe’s shooting on 8 July, Tetsuya Yamagami, has told investigators he targeted the politician because of his ties to the church, whose members are commonly known as Moonies.

Yamagami reportedly said he harboured a two-decade grudge against the church after his mother, a member, donated a huge sum of money to the organisation and bankrupted his family.

Abe was not a member of the church, but sent a congratulatory video message to a church-affiliated event last autumn.

Founded in South Korea in 1954 by the self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon, the church was encouraged to establish a presence in Japan by Abe’s grandfather and postwar prime minister, Nobusuke Kishi, as a counter to communism and trade unionism. The organisation, known for its mass weddings, has been accused of pressuring believers into making donations they can’t afford – claims it has denied.

After Abe’s shooting exposed serious errors by officers responsible for protecting him, organisers have planned strict security measures near the funeral venue.

Roads around the Budokan will be closed and airspace will be restricted from Monday until Wednesday. Tens of thousands of police officers, including about 2,500 from outside the capital, have been deployed and sniffer dogs have been patrolling major railway stations and Haneda airport in recent days.

Japanese media revelations that other members of the LDP – and a much smaller number from other parties – had attended church events or sought help from their members has dominated the domestic news for weeks. A survey conducted by the party found that 179 of its 379 lawmakers had interacted with the church.

But a call by Kishida for party MPs to cut their ties to the church has done little to quell growing anger at plans to spend an estimated ¥1.65bn ($12m) on the funeral, most of which will be go on security and hosting foreign delegations.

Kishida has seen his approval ratings plummet, while opinion polls show a majority of people oppose Tuesday’s ceremony. According to a recent poll by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, 62% of respondents said they objected to the ceremony. Some said Abe was not worthy of the honour, while others cited the cost.

Holding a state funeral was a “big miscalculation” by Kishida, according to Tomoaki Iwai, professor emeritus at Nihon University.

“When he originally decided on the funeral there were a lot of people in favour, but then there were the reports of Abe’s involvement with the Unification church, and so opposition grew.”

While Abe’s economic and security policies received largely positive reviews abroad, he continues to be a divisive figure at home.

Critics say he dragged the country to the right, treated the constitution with contempt and presided over an administration mired in cronyism and sleaze. Abe was implicated in major scandals but went on to become Japan’s longest-serving leader shortly before he resigned, citing poor health, in 2020.

The 4,300 funeral guests will include the Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese as well as three of his predecessors, Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, and the European Council president, Charles Michel.

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