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Japan holds national mourning for former leader Abe amid tensions

TOKYO –

Japan was filled with tension, not sadness, on Tuesday as a rare state funeral for the assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of the country’s most deeply divisive leaders country.

Tokyo is under maximum security, with a large number of uniformed police deployed around Budokan hall, where funerals are being held, and major train stations. Roads around the site are closed throughout the day and coin lockers at main stations are sealed for security.

Hours before the ceremony began, dozens of people carrying bouquets of flowers lined up at public flower stalls in nearby Kudanzaka Park.

Opponents of the state-sponsored honor have staged protests elsewhere in Tokyo and around the country. They say tax money should be spent on more meaningful causes, such as to address the widening economic disparities caused by Abe’s policies.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been criticized for forcing a costly event for Abe, who was assassinated in July, amid growing controversy over him and the party’s decades-long cozy relationship ruling with the radical Unification Church, accused of making huge donations by brainwashing believers.

Kishida says the longest-serving leader in modern Japanese political history deserves the honor.

The government said the funeral was not intended to force anyone to honor Abe. But most of the nation’s 47 provincial governments must raise the flag at half a foot and observe a moment of silence.

Opponents argue that Kishida’s one-sided decision without congressional approval is undemocratic, a reminder of how the pre-war imperialist government used state funerals to fanaticalism. ethnic. The pre-war funeral laws were repealed after World War II. The only state funeral after the war for political leader Shigeru Yoshida, in 1967, also drew criticism for its lack of legal basis.

Protest organizer Takakage Fujita said: “Spending our valuable tax dollars on state funerals without a legal basis is an act of trampling on the constitution.

The government says about 1.7 billion yen ($11.8 million) is needed for the venue, security, transportation and accommodation for guests.

To justify attacks on funerals, Kishida conducted marathon talks with visiting foreign leaders in what he called “funeral diplomacy” aimed at strengthening ties when Japan Japan faces global and regional challenges, including threats from China, Russia and North Korea. He has met with about 40 foreign leaders through the end of Wednesday. No Group of Seven leaders attended.

Kishida met with about 10 of them on Monday, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte. He will meet privately with his Australian and Indian counterparts and host a reception on Tuesday.

About 4,300 people, including Japanese lawmakers and foreign and local dignitaries, are attending the funeral.

Japanese troops will line the streets around the site, and 20 of them will perform honor guards outside Abe’s home as his family leaves, followed by a 19-year salute. volley.

The ceremony will begin when Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, enters the hall carrying an urn containing Abe’s ashes, placed in a wooden box and wrapped in white cloth. The former leader was cremated after a private funeral at a temple in Tokyo a few days after his death.

Government, parliamentary and judicial representatives, including Kishida, will deliver condolences, followed by Akie Abe.

Japan’s main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party and Communist Party of Japan are boycotting funerals, among others.

Opponents of Abe recall his efforts to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities, his push for more military spending, his reactionary views on gender roles and a leadership is seen as autocratic and favors cronyism.

Funeral protests grew as more details emerged of Abe and LDP lawmakers’ connections to the Unification Church. The Korea-based church has built close relationships with LDP legislators for mutual interest in conservative causes.

“The fact that the close relationship between the LDP and the Unification Church may have interfered with the policy-making process is seen by the Japanese as a threat,” said Hosei University political science professor Jiro Yamaguchi. greater threat to democracy than the assassination of Abe.”

A group of lawyers have filed several lawsuits in courts around the country to halt the funeral, although one of them was fired on Monday. An elderly man set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office to protest the funeral.

The suspect in Abe’s assassination is said to target him because of Abe and his party’s ties to the church, which he says ruined his life.

Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the church take root in Japan and is now seen as a key figure in the scandal. Opponents say holding a state funeral for Abe is tantamount to endorsing partisan ties to the Unification Church.

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