December 9, 2023

People queue to pay respects at Zojoji temple ahead of private funeral for assassinated former prime minister.

Japanese have turned out in their hundreds to bid farewell to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who dominated the country’s politics before his resignation in 2020, and died after being shot at a campaign rally last week.

Many gathered at the Zojoji temple in Tokyo to pay their respects ahead of a private funeral for Abe, who was 67.

His assassination on Friday by an unemployed man using a homemade gun shocked a nation where both gun crime and political violence are extremely rare.

Keiko Noumi, a 58-year-old teacher, was among those offering prayers and flowers in front of a large photograph of Abe set up inside the temple grounds.

“There was a sense of security when he was the prime minister in charge of the country,” she said. “I really supported him, so this is very unfortunate.”

Abe, who became one of Japan’s most influential post-war politicians, led the country for nearly eight years before he announced in August 2020 that he was resigning because of his health.

“Abe was the face of government,” Jeffrey Hall, an expert in Japanese politics at the Kanda University of International Studies, told Al Jazeera from Tokyo. “For eight years, he was always there. He had a vision of Japan. A vision of a country that would be more proactive in world affairs, [and] more proactive in security, and sought to achieve this by building many strong personal relationships with world leaders.”

People queue to offer flowers and prayers to Shinzo Abe who was killed on Friday
Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister and influential even after his resignation for health reasons in 2020 [Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo]

The former prime minister’s private funeral is due to start at 1pm local time (04:00 GMT), with the ceremony open only to family and close friends.

Following the funeral, the hearse bearing Abe’s body will be driven through the centre of Tokyo, passing landmarks such as the parliament building that Abe first entered as a young legislator in 1993, and the office from which he led the nation.

Since his death, tributes have poured in from international leaders, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken making a brief stop en route to the United States from Southeast Asia on Monday morning to pay his respects.

Blinken said Abe “did more than anyone to elevate the relationship between the United States and Japan to new heights”.

French President Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences in footage posted on the country’s official presidential Twitter account after he visited the Japanese embassy in Paris.

“I remember all our meetings and work together, especially during my visit [to Japan] in 2019 … I’ve lost a friend,” said a solemn Macron.

“He served his country with great courage, and audacity.”

Mourners pray and leave white flowers for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Mourners pray for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo. Abe was shot by a man with a homemade gun during a campaign event on Friday [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

The suspected killer, arrested at the scene and identified by police as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, believed Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother made a “huge donation”, Kyodo news agency has said, citing investigators.

The Unification Church, known for its mass weddings and devoted following, said on Monday the suspect’s mother was one of its members.

Yamagami shot Abe from behind using a 40-cm-long (16-inch) weapon equipped with plastic pellets, according to Kyodo.

He told investigators he watched YouTube tutorials to learn how to make guns, the news agency reported on Tuesday.

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