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Monday, January 30, 2023

Japan to hold state funeral for Shinzo Abe; US Vice president Harris to attend

Tokyo: US Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to join world leaders in Tokyo on Tuesday to commemorate the life of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, who was assassinated in July.

The state funeral will be the first in Japan in 55 years and only the second in the postwar era.

The event takes place amid anger in Japan that taxpayers will be footing the $11.5 million (about R200m) bill to honour a leader and staunch US ally who was popular abroad but often polarising at home.

Compounding the furor, a scandal has engulfed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party since its ties to a religious group came under the spotlight in the weeks since the former conservative leader was fatally shot.

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he wanted to carry out the assassination because his life and family had been ruined as a result of his mother’s large donations to the Unification Church, to which Abe had apparent close ties. The church has confirmed that Yamagami’s mother was a member.

Hundreds of protesters gathered on Monday night outside one of Tokyo’s most congested subway stations in Shinjuku to protest against the funeral. Demonstrations are expected outside the Diet, Japan’s national assembly, during the service, which will begin at 2pm local time at the Nippon Budokan hall in the capital.

Japanese authorities have stepped up security measures for the occasion, particularly in light of the acknowledged lapses that enabled the gunman to approach Abe and open fire with a home-made weapon during a campaign event.

About 4 300 guests, including about 700 from overseas, are expected to attend Tuesday’s closed ceremony, according to Nikkei Asia. Members of the public can visit a park near the Nippon Budokan to offer flowers.

Before the funeral, Harris is scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Her advisers have said the discussions would broadly be about regional economic and security issues, including China’s actions in the Taiwan Strait and co-operation against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Harris would head to South Korea later this week, where she planned to visit the demilitarised zone, Han announced at the beginning of his meeting with the US vice president on Tuesday. The White House said Harris would tour sites at the DMZ, which separated the two Koreas, meet service members and receive an operational briefing from US commanders.

“The vice president will reflect on the shared sacrifice of tens of thousands of American and Korean soldiers who fought and died together, and will reaffirm that the US commitment to the ROK’s defence is ironclad,” the White House said, using an abbreviation for the Republic of Korea, the formal name for South Korea.

On Monday, after arriving in Tokyo, Harris met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, offering her condolences for Abe’s death and emphasising the US-Japan alliance and US support for Abe’s vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

With the US midterm elections weeks away, resident Joe Biden and Harris had intended to limit their travel to places in the US, touting wins under their administration and campaigning and fund-raising for Democrats. But the White House shifted its plans after the deaths of Abe in July and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on September 8.

“As you have said, 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,” Harris told Kishida on Monday. “And it is something we’ve prioritised because we also believe it is in the best interest of the American people in terms of their security and prosperity, and we do believe the same for the Japanese people.”

In addition to events around Abe’s funeral, Harris plans to tour the Zojoji Temple, where thousands of Japanese flocked in the immediate aftermath of the former leader’s killing to pay their respects.

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