Japan holds state funeral for slain PM Shinzo Abe

World Tuesday 27/September/2022 15:20 PM
By: DW
Japan holds state funeral for slain PM Shinzo Abe

Japan honored former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday with flowers, a 19-gun salute and thousands of mourners at the country's first state funeral for a former prime minister in 55 years.

The ceremony, which was attended by dozens of foreign leaders and dignitaries, comes after the long-serving former prime minister was shot dead with an improvised firearm at a campaign rally in July, just days before a national election.

"You were a person who should have lived much much longer," said Japan's current prime minister and head of the funeral committee, Fumio Kishida.

"As a compass for Japan and the world's future, you would have worked for 10 more — no, 20 more years — until there's no energy left in you. I'm certain you would have dedicated yourself."

Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who was a longtime minister in Abe's cabinet before taking over from him in 2020, paid tribute to his late friend in a tearful speech.

"When I heard that unbelievable truth, all I wanted to do was see you once more," Suga said.

At the end of his speech, he added: "I feel sorrow and I am lonely."

Ahead of the official proceedings, thousands of people lined up to offer flowers and prayers in Abe's honor at a public mourning tent in Kudanzaka park near the site of the ceremony, the Nippon Budokan hall.

Tens of thousands of police have been deployed, nearby roads have been closed for the day and some schools are also closed.

Thousands of mourners attended the main ceremony, which began when Abe's widow, Akie Abe, entered the hall carrying an urn with her husband's ashes. Speeches were made by government, parliamentary and judicial representatives.

Kamala Harris in attendance, Justin Trudeau forced to cancel

Kishida met about 10 dignitaries on Monday, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte.

Also in attendance are India's Narendra Modi and Australia's Anthony Albanese, with whom Kishida will meet with separately.

Germany was represented at the funeral by former President Christian Wulff, and France by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The United Kingdom and Italy sent former prime ministers Theresa May and Matteo Renzi, respectively.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only G7 leader besides Kishida scheduled to attend, but he had to cancel in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

Harris stressed the importance of US-Japanese relations in Asia and the wider world in talks with Kishida.

"The alliance between Japan and the United States is a cornerstone of what we believe is integral to peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region," the vice president said at the Akasaka Palace.

Kishida said that Abe had "poured his heart and soul" into strengthening ties between their two countries and that "I feel it is my duty to carry on his aspirations."

Who was Shinzo Abe?

Born in 1954, Shinzo Abe was Japan's longest serving prime minister. He led the country's government twice, for exactly a year starting in September 2006 and then from December 2012 until September 2020.

He was shot dead by a man using an improvised firearm — Japan's gun laws are among the strictest on the planet — at an election rally on July 8 this year. His death shocked a country unaccustomed to gun violence and led to the police chief resigning.

Abe was a contentious figure at home, not least because he saw himself as a reformer whose task it was to steer Japan away from longstanding policies and traditions he no longer considered helpful.

His so-called "Abenomics" economics program was an attempt to counter Japan's years of economic stagnation. He also called for closer ties with the US and for gradual rearmament in Japan after decades of pacifist policies in the aftermath of World War II. A staunch conservative who sometimes questioned historical allegations of wrongdoing, critics also said that his attitude to Japan's colonial past damaged relations with China and Korea.

Many of the eulogies given for Abe mentioned his policy accomplishments including the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Protests against state funeral decision as Kishida struggles

Opponents of the state-sponsored funeral, only the second of its kind for a politician in Japan since World War II, have planned rallies elsewhere in Tokyo and around the country. They argue that the money would be better spent on more meaningful causes, including alleviating the economic disparities some attribute to Abe's policies.

In area of downtown Tokyo on Tuesday, protesters waved signs and chanted "No state funeral" to the tune of a guitar.

Other criticism has centered around the ties between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Abe once ran and the contentious Unification Church. According to police, Abe's killer accused the Unification Church of swindling his family out of their savings. This link has prompted further investigation of the party and the church's connections.

Kishida's decision to hold a state funeral was pushed through without parliamentary approval. Kishida said it was a way to honor the achievements of Japan's longest-serving prime minister and stand up for democracy after a murder on the campaign trail. But a recent poll by TV Asahi in Japan suggested fewer people supported the decision than opposed it.