TOKYO (UPDATE) – Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral began in Tokyo on Tuesday amid tight security, with more than 4,000 mourners in attendance, despite growing opposition to the controversial ceremony. the country’s longest-serving leader.
Ahead of the state-funded event, the first of its kind for a former prime minister in 55 years, calls for it to be canceled grew. Critics said it lacked a legal basis while citing Abe’s complicated political legacy for their opposition.
The funeral is expected to cost the taxpayer more than 1.6 billion yen ($11 million).
In the post-war period, Japan had only once held a state funeral for a former prime minister. The honor was bestowed in 1967 on former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who led the country’s recovery from World War II.
Abe’s private funeral took place four days after he was shot and killed 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 in particular around the Nippon Budokan hall where the ceremony was held.
Meanwhile, in a park near the site, large numbers of people gathered to lay flowers at a set of stands early in the morning.
Opponents of the funeral have repeatedly held rallies outside the prime minister’s office, the parliament building and elsewhere and have filed lawsuits demanding the event be called off.
In the service which began at 2 p.m., Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who supported the late leader for years as Chief Cabinet Secretary, are due to deliver memorial speeches.
Among the more than 700 foreign guests are US Vice President Kamala Harris, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
A car carrying Abe’s cremated remains arrived at the scene from his family home after stopping at the Ministry of Defence, which was upgraded by an agency in 2007 during its first stint as the first minister which lasted about a year from 2006.
Abe, who became prime minister again from 2012 to 2020, also worked to revise Japan’s war-denial constitution to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces, a goal he was unable to achieve.
Kishida decided soon after Abe’s murder to hold a taxpayer-funded funeral for him, but the prime minister has since faced heavy criticism over the move, hurting his approval rating. of his office.
Due to the principle of separation of religion and state, the government decided to hold a secular ceremony. He did not ask the general public to mourn the former prime minister.
As the funeral divided public opinion, some opposition parties boycotted the service. But while leaders of the main opposition Democratic Constitutional Party of Japan will not be present, Yoshihiko Noda, a CDPJ lawmaker who was Abe’s immediate predecessor before his second term as prime minister, expressed their willingness to join.
Opposition lawmakers have argued there is no legal basis for holding a state funeral for a former prime minister, while questions have also arisen over the ultimate cost of the event.
Funerals for former prime ministers after Yoshida have mostly been held jointly by the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power almost continuously since its inception in 1955. Funeral expenses were shared between them.
Kishida cited Abe’s longevity in power – more than eight years in total – as one of the reasons for holding the state funeral, but political pundits say his legacy is controversial, especially in light of a series of patronage allegations and other scandals that came to light when he was in office.
The questionable ties between the Unification Church, a religious group often referred to as a cult, and the LDP, led by Abe, also affected 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 alleged ties to it. In 2021, Abe appeared in a video message broadcast at an event organized by a group affiliated with the Unification Church.
Nearly half of LDP lawmakers have admitted to having had a connection to the organization, sparking speculation that the Unification Church may have exerted influence in the political arena.