Ex-Japan PM Abe's state funeral begins despite public opposition

Kyodo News

Posted at Sep 27 2022 01:54 PM | Updated as of Sep 27 2022 02:18 PM

A view of the stage during the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan, 27 September 2022. Thousands of people are gathered in Tokyo to attend the state funeral for former prime minister Shinzo Abe, including foreign dignitaries and representatives from more than 200 countries and international organizations. EPA-EFE/TAKASHI AOYAMA / POOL
A view of the stage during the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan, 27 September 2022. Thousands of people are gathered in Tokyo to attend the state funeral for former prime minister Shinzo Abe, including foreign dignitaries and representatives from more than 200 countries and international organizations. EPA-EFE/TAKASHI AOYAMA / POOL

TOKYO (UPDATE) - A state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began in Tokyo on Tuesday amid tight security, with more than 4,000 mourners in attendance, despite mounting opposition to the controversial ceremony for the country's longest-serving leader.

Ahead of the state-funded event, the first of its kind for a former premier in 55 years, calls for its cancellation have grown. Critics have said it lacks a legal basis while citing Abe's complicated political legacy for their opposition.

The funeral is set to cost the taxpayer more than 1.6 billion yen ($11 million).

During the postwar period, Japan had only held a state funeral for a former premier once. The honor was given in 1967 to former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who led the country's recovery from World War II.

A private funeral for Abe took place four days after he was fatally shot during an election campaign speech on July 8 in the western city of Nara by a lone gunman. His remains were cremated.

The National Police Agency has mobilized up to 20,000 officers to enforce strict security in the capital and particularly around the Nippon Budokan hall where the ceremony was held.

At a park near the venue, meanwhile, large numbers of people gathered to lay flowers at a set of stands from early in the morning.

Opponents of the funeral have repeatedly held rallies in front of the prime minister's office, parliament building and elsewhere and filed lawsuits demanding that the event be scrapped.

In the service that started at 2 p.m., Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who supported the deceased leader for years as chief Cabinet secretary, are scheduled to give memorial addresses.

Among the more than 700 foreign guests are U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

A car carrying Abe's cremated remains arrived at the venue from his family home after stopping by the Defense Ministry, which was upgraded from an agency in 2007 during his first stint as premier that lasted for around one year from 2006.

Abe, who became prime minister again from 2012 to 2020, also made efforts to revise Japan's war-renouncing Constitution to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces, a goal that he was unable to achieve.

Kishida decided swiftly after Abe's slaying to hold a taxpayer-funded funeral for him, but the premier has since faced harsh criticism over the decision, hurting the approval rating of his Cabinet.

Due to the principle of the separation of religion and state, the government has decided to hold a secular ceremony. It has not asked the general public to mourn the former prime minister.

With the funeral splitting public opinion, some opposition parties boycotted the service. But while executives of the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, will not attend, Yoshihiko Noda, a CDPJ lawmaker who was Abe's immediate predecessor before his second term as prime minister, voiced willingness to join.

Opposition lawmakers have argued that there is no legal basis for staging a state funeral for a former prime minister, while questions have also arisen about how much the event will ultimately cost.

Funerals for past premiers after Yoshida were mainly held jointly by the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power almost continuously since its establishment in 1955. The funeral expenses were shared between them.

Kishida cited Abe's longevity in office -- over eight years in total -- as one of the reasons for holding the state funeral, but political experts say his legacy is contentious, especially in light of a series of favoritism allegations and other scandals that came to light when he was in power.

Dubious ties between the Unification Church, a religious group often labeled as a cult, and the LDP, which Abe headed, have also affected the public mood ahead of the funeral.

Abe's attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, reportedly said he harbored a grudge against the organization and targeted Abe for his perceived ties to it. In 2021, Abe appeared in a video message aired at an event held by a Unification Church-affiliated group.

Nearly half of the LDP lawmakers have admitted to having had some connection with the organization, sparking speculation the Unification Church might have wielded influence in the political arena.

==Kyodo

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