Mourners lined the streets of central Tokyo yesterday to bid farewell to assassinated former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, as his hearse was driven past political landmarks after a private funeral. The country’s longest-serving prime minister was gunned down on Friday while campaigning, in a crime that rattled Japan and prompted an outpouring of international condemnation and grief. His funeral was held at Tokyo’s Zojoji temple yesterday, with relatives and close acquaintances in attendance. But elsewhere in the temple compound, thousands of well-wishers lined up in the humid heat to pay their respects before a photo of the late leader, who held office until 2020. “I can’t get over my sadness, so I came here to lay flowers,” consultant Tsukasa Yokawa, 41, said, describing Abe as “a great prime minister who did a lot to elevate Japan’s presence” globally. After the service, a hearse carrying Abe’s body departed for a final tour of some of the political landmarks he served in: the parliament, the prime minister’s office and the headquarters of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Residents gathered along the route, while staff and officials, including ministers and senior LDP figures, stood sombrely outside each venue. They pressed their hands together and bowed their heads in respect as the car arrived. Abe’s widow Akie sat in the front of the hearse – carrying her husband’s mortuary tablet inscribed with his posthumous Buddhist name – and bowed back. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s brother, called the murder “an act of terrorism” yesterday. “I’ve lost my brother. At the same time, Japan has lost an irreplaceable leader,” he tweeted. “My brother loved Japan and risked his life to be a politician and protect this nation.” In a speech at the funeral, 81-year-old Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso recalled drinking and playing golf with his close ally. “You were supposed to read an eulogy for me. This is very painful,” he said, according to Japanese media. Abe was campaigning in the western city of Nara when he was shot. The murder suspect, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, is in custody and has told police he targeted Abe because he believed the politician was linked to an organisation he resented. Yamagami approached him from behind in broad daylight, in circumstances that have raised questions about security. Satoshi Ninoyu, the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet position overseeing national police, pledged yesterday to hold a full review of any security failings. Local police have already admitted flaws in their guarding programme for the high-profile politician. Police searches of the suspect’s home have found pellets and other possible components for building a gun like the crude weapon used in the attack, Japanese media reported yesterday, citing unnamed investigative sources. Yamagami spent three years in Japan’s navy and reportedly told investigators that his mother’s large donations to a religious organisation had caused the family financial troubles. The Unification Church, a global religious movement founded in Korea in the 1950s, said on Monday that Yamagami’s mother was a member, but did not comment on any donations she may have made. Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said yesterday that more than 1,700 condolence messages had been received from 259 countries, territories and international bodies. On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a previously unscheduled stop in Tokyo to pay tribute to Abe, describing him as a “man of vision”. And Taiwanese Vice President William Lai was also in Tokyo for a surprise trip, Taiwanese media said. Public memorials for Abe, 67, are expected to be held at a later date. Abe, the scion of a political family, took power for the first time in 2006, and resigned for health reasons in 2020 at the end of his second stint at the helm. His hawkish, nationalist views were divisive, and he weathered a series of scandals including allegations of cronyism, but he was lauded by others for his economic strategy and efforts to put Japan firmly on the world stage.
Sri Lanka’s parliament will elect a new president on July 20, its speaker said yesterday, after protesters stormed the residences of the current president and prime minister, who have both offered to quit amid an economic meltdown. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had overseen a ruthless crushing of the Tamil Tigers insurgents as defence secretary, is set to resign tomorrow. His brothers and nephew earlier quit as ministers as Sri Lanka began running out of fuel, food and other essentials in the worst crisis since independence from Britain in 1948. Parliament will reconvene on Friday and will vote to elect a new president five days later, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a statement. “During the party leaders’ meeting held today it was agreed that this was essential to ensure a new all-party government is in place in accordance with the Constitution,” the statement added. “The ruling party has said the prime minister and the Cabinet are ready to resign to appoint an all-party government” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose private home was set alight by protesters, has said he will step down. His office said Rajapaksa had confirmed his resignation plans to the prime minister, adding that the cabinet would resign once a deal was reached to form an all-party government. The political instability could damage negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package, the central bank governor told Reuters. Governor P Nandalal Weerasinghe signalled he would stay on in the job although he had said in May he could resign if there was no political stability in the island nation of 22mn. Leaders of the protest movement have said crowds will occupy the residences of the president and prime minister in Colombo until they finally quit office. Over the weekend at the president’s house, protesters jumped into the swimming pool, lounged on a four-poster bed, jostled for turns on a treadmill and tried out the sofas. Colombo was calm yesterday as hundreds of people strolled into the president’s secretariat and residence and toured the colonial-era buildings. Police made no attempt to intervene. “We are not going anywhere till this president leaves and we have a government that is acceptable to the people,” said Jude Hansana, 31, who has been at a protest site outside the residence since early April. Another protester, Dushantha Gunasinghe, said he had travelled 130km to Colombo, walking part of the way because of a fuel crunch. “I’m so exhausted I can barely speak,” said the 28-year-old as he sat outside the president’s office. “I came alone all this way because I believe we need to see this through. This government needs to go home and we need better leaders.” Police said they had received 17.8mn rupees (about $50,000) found by a group of protesters at the president’s residence on Saturday. A video of the youngsters counting out the cash went viral on social media. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a smooth transition of government and “sustainable solutions” to the economic crisis. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, whose Samagi Jana Balawegaya party holds 54 seats in the 225-member parliament, said it was ready to step into the government. “We as the opposition are ready to provide leadership to stabilise the country and rebuild the economy,” he said.”We will appoint a new president, prime minister and form a government.” Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe were not in their residences when the protesters surged into the buildings and have not been seen in public since Friday. Rajapaksa’s whereabouts were not clear, but Wickremesinghe’s media team said in a statement he held a meeting with cabinet ministers at the prime minister’s office yesterday. Wickremesinghe’s private home in an affluent Colombo suburb was set on fire on Saturday, and three suspects have been arrested. Constitutional experts say once the president and prime minister resign, the speaker will be appointed as acting president before parliament votes in a new president to complete Rajapaksa’s term that was to end in 2024. Sri Lankans have mainly blamed Rajapaksa for the collapse of the tourism-dependent economy, which was hammered badly by the Covid-19 pandemic and a ban on chemical fertilisers that damaged farm output. The ban was later reversed. Government finances were crippled by mounting debt and lavish tax breaks given by the Rajapaksa regime. Foreign exchange reserves were quickly depleted as oil prices rose.
Mourners streamed into a temple in Tokyo to pay their respects to Japan’s slain former premier Shinzo Abe yesterday, as his assassination overshadowed an election win for the ruling party he had dominated. Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has the chance to cement his own power following Sunday’s election gains, and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen were among the hundreds at Abe’s wake, three days after he was shot at an election rally. A private funeral for Abe, who resigned in 2020 and was Japan’s longest-serving premier, is scheduled for today. “There is a profound sense of sorrow at his loss,” Yellen told reporters outside the temple, where she placed incense in Abe’s honour and greeted his family. “Prime Minister Abe was a visionary leader and he strengthened Japan...I know that his legacy will live on,” she added. Abe’s shooting shocked a nation where political violence and gun crime is rare. 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, a controversial group known for its mass weddings and devoted following, said yesterday the suspect’s mother was one of its members. Neither Abe nor Yamagami were members of the church, said Tomihiro Tanaka, president of its Japan branch, adding that it would co-operate with police if asked to do so. Reuters was not immediately able to contact Yamagami’s mother and could not determine whether she belonged to any other religious organisations. SOMBRE VICTORY In elections held on Sunday, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its ruling coalition partner extended their majority in the upper house of parliament. With a majority already in place in the lower house, what would have been a celebratory mood at LDP headquarters in usual circumstances turned sombre. A moment of silence for Abe was offered in his memory, and Kishida’s face remained grim as he pinned rosettes next to winning candidates’ names on a board in a symbol of their victory. Abe’s death has drawn condolences from leaders around the world, from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kishida during a brief stopover yesterday to offer messages of support on behalf of President Joe Biden. Vice President William Lai became Taiwan’s most senior official to visit Japan in five decades as he made a private trip to Tokyo to pay his respects. At the wake, a line of black sedan cars, including several with diplomatic plates, dropped off dignitaries and family at Tokyo’s Zojoji temple, where the ex-premier’s body lay. Dressed in black, some of those gathered mopped their brows as they queued beneath the steps leading to the temple in the sultry evening air. A part of the temple was also open to members of the public who crowded in to lay flowers. “I feel so sad that a prime minister who dedicated himself for Japan died this way,” said Naoya Okamoto, a 28-year-old who works in construction. “He was the prime minister who demonstrated to the world a strong Japan once again.” Abe remained influential in the LDP party even after he stepped down in 2020 citing ill health. The LDP and its junior partner Komeito won 76 of the 125 seats contested in the chamber, up from 69 previously. The LDP alone won 63 seats, up from 55, to win a majority of the contested seats, though it fell short of a simple majority on its own. With no elections set for another three years, Kishida, an Abe protege, now has an unusually long breathing space to attempt to implement his own agenda.
The mother of the man arrested for the killing of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is a member of the Unification Church, the head of its Japanese arm said on Monday. Tetsuya Yamagami, an unemployed 41-year-old, has been identified by police as the suspect who approached Abe and opened fire during a campaign speech on Friday. Yamagami believed Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother made a "huge donation", Kyodo news agency has said, citing investigative sources. Yamagami told police his mother went bankrupt from the donation, the Yomiuri newspaper and other media have reported. Tomihiro Tanaka, president of the Japanese branch of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, known as the Unification Church, told reporters in Tokyo that Yamagami's mother was a church member. Tanaka declined to comment on her donations, citing the ongoing police investigation. Neither Abe nor the man arrested for his shooting were members of the church, Tanaka said. Nor was Abe an adviser to the church, Tanaka said, adding that it would cooperate with police on the investigation if asked to do so. Reuters was not able to contact Yamagami's mother and could not determine whether she belonged to any other religious organisations. The Unification Church was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, a self-declared messiah and strident anti-communist. It has gained global media attention for its mass weddings where it marries thousands of couples at a time. The church's affiliates include daily newspapers in South Korea, Japan and the United States. Moon ran a business empire and founded the conservative Washington Times newspaper. Abe, who was known for his conservative views, appeared at an event hosted by an organisation affiliated with the church last September and delivered a speech praising the affiliate's work towards peace on the Korean peninsula, according to the church's website. Critics have for years said the church is a cult and questioned what they say are murky finances. The church rejects such views and says it is a legitimate religious movement. Police have confirmed that the suspect said he held a grudge against a specific organisation, but they have not named it. QUIET LIFE Reuters visited the home of Yamagami's mother in Nara on Monday. The white house is tucked away at the end of a quiet cul de sac in a well-to-do neighbourhood one stop on the train from where Abe was gunned down. She did not appear to be at home. Two policemen sat outside in an unmarked car. A next door neighbour, a woman who only gave her surname Ishii, said she did not know the family and had only ever greeted the mother. "I don't see her around much, I say hello, but that is all," she said, adding that the mother appeared to live a quiet life. Another neighbour, an 87-year-old woman who only gave her surname Tanida, said the mother had lived alone for a long time. Yamagami's mother first joined the church around 1998 but stopped attendance between 2009 and 2017, Tanaka said. About two to three years ago she re-established communication with church members and in the last half year or so has been attending church events about once a month, he said. Tanaka said the church learned of the mother's financial difficulties only after talking to those close to her. He said he did not know what caused those difficulties. Nara police on Monday said they found apparent bullet holes at a facility run by the church, and that the suspect told them he had fired practice rounds at the facility the day before he shot Abe. Two people who lived near the group's biggest church in Nara prefecture, which is also the one closest to Yamagami's house, told Reuters it had been quiet since Saturday. Normally weekends are busy with members attending services, they said. They had not heard any loud bangs, they said. ABE'S GRANDFATHER Tanaka said Abe had sent messages to events held by church affiliates and expressed support for its global peace movement. Moon, who spoke fluent Japanese, launched an anti-communist political campaign in Japan from late 1960s and built relations with Japanese politicians, according to the church's publications. Nobusuke Kishi, Abe's maternal grandfather and a former prime minister, was an honourary executive chair for a group banquet hosted by Moon, the International Federation for Victory over Communism said on its website. Moon died in 2012. The church has about 600,000 members in Japan, out of 10 million globally, a spokesperson for the church said.
Japan’s conservative coalition government was projected to increase its majority in the upper house of parliament in an election yesterday, two days after the assassination of dominant politician and power broker Shinzo Abe. Abe, Japan’s longest-serving modern leader, was gunned down on Friday during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara in a killing that stunned a country where political violence and gun crime are rare. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), of which Abe remained an influential lawmaker, and its junior partner Komeito were on track to win 69 to 83 of the 125 seats contested in the chamber, from 69 previously, according to an exit poll by public broadcaster NHK. Elections for parliament’s less powerful upper house are typically a referendum on the sitting government. Change of government was not at stake, as that is determined by the lower house. But the strong showing could help Kishida consolidate his rule as he looks to steer Japan’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, keep a lid on rising consumer prices, and bolster defence at a time of tension with its powerful neighbour China. Final results are due today. “It’s significant we were able to pull this election together at a time violence was shaking the foundations of the election,” Kishida, an Abe protege, said after the exit poll. “Right now, as we face issues including the coronavirus, Ukraine, and inflation, solidarity within the government and coalition parties is vital,” he added. The party held a moment of silence for Abe at its Tokyo headquarters as members waited for results to come in. The LDP was projected to win as many as 69 seats, according to the exit poll, which would give it a majority even without Komeito. Its gains might allow Kishida to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, a dream Abe never achieved. Parties open to revising the constitution were projected to maintain their two-thirds majority in the upper house. Kishida may move cautiously on constitutional change, but the apparent victory looked set to pave the way for more defence spending, a key LDP election promise, said Robert Ward of the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Kishida “now has a green light for this”, Ward said. Asked about constitutional revision yesterday evening, Kishida said he would focus on putting together a bill to be discussed in parliament. People close to Kishida have said his team also wants to gradually phase out “Abenomics”, Japan’s signature economic policy of government spending and monetary stimulus named after the ex-premier who started the experiment nearly a decade ago. Kishida may now have the political capital to change course, analysts said.
Japanese police yesterday admitted there were “problems” with security for former prime minister Shinzo Abe, as his body arrived at his family home a day after he was assassinated on the campaign trail. The country was in mourning for Japan’s longest-serving premier and well-wishers gathered to pay their respects, with senior politicians dressed in black arriving at Abe’s Tokyo residence to offer condolences. But candidates also continued campaigning for the upper house election today, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida insisting: “We must never allow violence to suppress speech during elections, which are the foundation of democracy.” The murder of Japan’s best-known politician has rattled the country and sent shockwaves around the world, particularly given the nation’s low levels of violent crime and strict gun laws. Police are still piecing together details of the man who opened fire at close range on Friday, but the 41-year-old named as Tetsuya Yamaguchi has confessed to killing the former premier, motivated by a belief Abe was linked to an unspecified organisation. The tearful head of police in the Nara region where Abe was killed admitted yesterday there were “undeniable” flaws in security for the former leader. “I believe it is undeniable that there were problems with the guarding and safety measures for former prime minister Abe,” said Tomoaki Onizuka, head of the Nara prefectural police, pledging a “thorough investigation.” “In all the years since I became a police officer in 1995...there is no greater remorse, no bigger regret than this,” he said. Early yesterday afternoon, Abe’s body arrived at his home, where mourners like Tetsuya Hamada gathered to offer prayers and flowers. “I am stunned that things like this still take place in Japan,” he told AFP. “It makes me sad. How it is possible that this happened in broad daylight?” Japan’s upper house election will go ahead as planned today, and Kishida calling on supporters to “help us until the very end.” But Abe’s death cast a long shadow, and at the scene of his murder, 52-year-old Kayoko Ueda was wiping away tears and described herself as “distraught”. “I couldn’t believe something like this could actually happen in Japan,” she said. Yamagami’s motives remain unclear, with police declining so far to identify the organisation he believed Abe had links to. They are investigating claims Yamagami served in Japan’s navy, and said he appeared to have used a handmade gun. National broadcaster NHK said he described months of planning for the attack, including an original plot involving explosives that was later shelved in favour of building guns. Citing police sources, the station said Yamagami also claimed to have scouted out Abe at other speeches. Security at local campaign events in Japan can be relatively relaxed, but given Abe’s profile, questions have been raised about whether measures to protect him were too lax. Dramatic footage of the attack showed Yamaguchi, dressed in a grey shirt and brown trousers, was able to approach Abe from behind without being intercepted, and draw a weapon from a bag. He appeared to fire two shots, each producing a cloud of smoke. Doctors who treated Abe said he sustained multiple wounds to his neck and the internal damage from the shooting reached as deep as his heart. He died of blood loss, despite receiving massive transfusions. International reaction to Abe’s death was swift and stark, with US President Joe Biden saying he was “stunned, outraged and deeply saddened”, and ordering flags on US government buildings to fly at half-mast. Even regional powers with whom Abe had clashed expressed condolences. Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was “deeply saddened” by the killing, which South Korea’s president called an “unacceptable act”.
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) could receive a surge of support in an upper house election today following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the party’s leading statesman and power broker. Abe, Japan’s longest-serving modern leader, was gunned down on Friday during a speech in support of a local candidate in the western city of Nara — a killing the political establishment condemned as an attack on democracy itself. Elections for seats in parliament’s less powerful upper house are typically seen as a referendum on the sitting government, and the latest opinion polls already pointed to a strong showing for the ruling bloc led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida — an Abe protege. As the nation mourns, both the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito could gain from a potential wave of sympathy votes, political analysts said. “The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition was already on course for a solid victory,” James Brady of the Teneo consultancy said in a note.”A wave of sympathy votes now could boost the margin of victory.” Campaigning was halted on Friday after Abe’s killing, but politicians resumed pre-election activities yesterday. There was an increased police presence when Kishida appeared at a campaign event in a city southwest of Tokyo and a metal detection scanner was installed at the venue — an unusual security measure in Japan. A strong showing at the polls could help Kishida consolidate his rule, giving the former banker from Hiroshima a chance to carry out his goal of boosting defence spending. It might also allow him to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution — something even the hawkish Abe was never able to achieve. “In the months ahead, the government is certain to seek to strengthen domestic security,” Brady said. “By undermining the public’s general sense of safety and order, the event could also add further momentum to those key Abe causes like defence build-up and constitutional revision,” he added. Polls last week showed the LDP winning at least 60 of the 125 seats being contested today, compared with the 55 it now holds, allowing it to maintain the majority in the chamber that it holds with Komeito. Reaching 69 seats in the upper house would give the LDP a majority, a threshold that had been seen as a stretch prior to Abe’s killing. Kishida, once on the more dovish side of the LDP, has shifted towards the right and said parts of the constitution may have elements that “are outdated and lacking”. Opinion polls show a majority of voters favour greater military strength. But even a strong LDP performance will be overshadowed by the murder of Abe, who as leader of its largest faction still wielded considerable strength over policy and personnel decisions. His death raises the spectre of a power vacuum and potential turmoil within the party, analysts said. The small, populist Japan Innovation Party, which gained seats in a general election last year, could siphon off votes from the LDP. But since the party also backs constitutional revision, any advances it makes would be likely to bolster the LDP’s reform goals.
* Former premier shot Friday during campaign speech * Political violence, gun crime extremely rare in Japan * Security measures ramp up ahead of Sunday elections Police acknowledged security flaws on Saturday in the Japanese city of Nara where former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated, as a motorcade carrying his body arrived at his home in the capital Tokyo. Mourners gathered at his residence and at the scene of Friday's tragedy in the western city of Nara, where Japan's longest-serving modern leader was gunned down in a rare act of political violence while making a campaign speech. Police arrested a 41-year-old man immediately after Abe was shot at close range with a homemade gun. The local police force manning the campaign event said on Saturday that there had been shortcomings in the security arrangements. "We can't deny that there were problems with the security plan given how things ended," Nara prefectural police chief Tomoaki Onizuka told a news conference. "I feel a grave sense of responsibility," he said, adding that police would analyse what exactly went wrong and implement any necessary changes. Dignitaries in Japan often travel with modest security details focused mainly on direct physical threats rather than by heavily armed personnel braced for firearms attacks seen in places such as the United States. On Friday, Nippon Television quoted Nara police as saying Abe was protected at the rally by one armed specialised police officer and some other local officers. Nara police declined to say how many police officers were handling Abe's security. Elections for seats in Japan's upper house of parliament are going ahead as scheduled on Sunday, with the vote expected to deliver victory to the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, an Abe protege. Kishida was back on the campaign trail visiting regional constituencies after making an emergency return to Tokyo on Friday after the shooting. A metal detection scanner, not normally seen at election events in largely crime-free Japan, was installed at a site in the city of Fujiyoshida where Kishida was due to give a campaign speech. There was also a heavy police presence. In Nara, some 450 km southwest of Tokyo, a stream of people queued up to lay flowers on a table beside a photograph of Abe. "I'm just shocked that this kind of thing happened in Nara," said Natsumi Niwa, a 50-year-old housewife, after laying flowers with her 10-year-old son near the scene of the killing outside a downtown train station. Niwa said Abe, a conservative and architect of the "Abenomics" policies aimed at reflating the economy, had inspired the name of her son, Masakuni. Abe used to hail Japan as a "beautiful nation". "Kuni" means nation in Japanese. A night vigil is due to be held on Monday. Abe's funeral will take place on Tuesday, attended by close friends, media said. There was no immediate word on any public memorial service. Police were scrambling to piece together details of the suspect's motive and his preparations for the crime. The suspect believed the former Japanese leader was linked to a religious group he blamed for his mother's financial ruin, police told local media on Saturday, without identifying the group. He spent months plotting the attack, even attending other Abe campaign events, including one a day earlier some 200 km away, media reported. Analysts said the gun he used was easy to make from readily available materials such as wood and metal pipes, showing the difficulty in eliminating such threats even in a country where tough laws mean it is rare for citizens to buy or own firearms. Abe's killing "heightens the prospect for stronger turnout and greater support for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)", in Sunday's election, Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a note. The LDP, where Abe retained considerable influence, had already been expected to gain seats before the assassination. Abe, 67, served twice as prime minister, stepping down citing ill health on both occasions. But he remained a member of parliament and influential leader in the LDP after stepping down for the second time in 2020. A strong election performance by the LDP "could catalyse Kishida to push for Abe's unfulfilled goal of amending Japan's constitution to allow for a stronger role for the military", James Brady, vice president at advisory firm Teneo, wrote in a note. Kishida visited Abe's residence in Tokyo to pay his respects on Saturday, the Kyodo news agency reported, alongside mourners clutching flowers and party officials who bowed as the hearse carrying his body arrived. Abe's death has drawn condolences from across political divides, and from around the world. The Quad, a group of countries aimed at countering China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region which Abe was instrumental in setting up, expressed shock at the assassination in a joint statement. "We will honour Prime Minister Abe's memory by redoubling our work towards a peaceful and prosperous region," said the group, which includes Japan, India, Australia and the United States. Chinese President Xi Jinping also paid tribute to Abe, who he said worked hard to improve relations between the neighbours, Chinese state media reported.
Britain’s Labour party has threatened a bid to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of Downing Street immediately, following his resignation in the face of a cabinet uprising. Johnson quit as leader of the ruling Conservative party on Thursday, after a frenzy of nearly 60 resignations in less than 48 hours in opposition to his scandal-hit reign. However, the 58-year-old, whose three-year premiership has been defined by Britain’s departure from the European Union and the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, said he would stay on until his successor is found. Former finance minister Rishi Sunak, whose resignation on Tuesday was instrumental in Johnson’s demise, meanwhile launched his bid for the top job. “Let’s restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country,” the multimillionaire said, presenting a slick video on social media at the start of what could be a months-long campaign. The defence minister, Ben Wallace, who is also expected to declare, according to the Daily Telegraph, and Sunak are among the early frontrunners, a YouGov poll of Tory members suggested. However, calls mounted for Johnson to leave straight away and for an acting leader to be appointed in the interim. Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the main opposition party aimed to trigger a vote of no confidence in parliament if the Tories do not get rid of Johnson immediately. “He’s a proven liar who’s engulfed in sleaze and we can’t have another couple of months of this,” she told BBC radio. “If they don’t, we will call a no-confidence vote because it’s pretty clear he hasn’t got the confidence of the House (of Commons) or the British public.” To do so, Labour would need the support of dozens of Conservative MPs. However, the strategy is fraught as it could trigger a general election, and the danger of Tory MPs losing their seats, if Johnson is defeated. Johnson’s spokesman said there was no question of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab taking over as caretaker. “The prime minister is acting in line with convention. He remains prime minister until a new party leader is in place and the work of the government will continue whilst that takes place,” he told journalists. A timetable for the leadership contest is expected on Monday, with the winner installed in time for the party’s annual conference in early October. As well as Sunak, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat and Attorney-General Suella Braverman have also both officially announced their candidatures. Former health and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who lost to Johnson in 2019, was “virtually certain” to run again, a source close to Hunt told British media. In a defiant resignation speech in Downing Street on Thursday, Johnson said he was “sad ... to be giving up the best job in the world”. However, he said he initially refused to surrender to his “herd” of Tory critics by claiming a personal mandate he won by a landslide in December 2019. Even while eyeing the exit, Johnson sought to steady the ship, making several appointments to replace departed cabinet members. At a first meeting of his hastily convened new top team, Johnson confirmed his lame-duck status by saying “major fiscal decisions should be left for the next prime minister”, Downing Street said. Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid prompted the exodus by quitting late on Tuesday, just as Johnson apologised for appointing a senior colleague facing sexual assault claims to a prominent role. Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip last week following accusations he had drunkenly groped two men. Downing Street officials eventually conceded that Johnson had known about other allegations against Pincher back in 2019, and many ministers recoiled at having to defend the PM yet again. As late as Wednesday night, Johnson – whose landslide 2019 win was the biggest Tory victory since the heyday of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s – had been defiantly clinging to power. However, he was forced to concede his time was up after another round of resignations on Thursday morning and warnings of a second no-confidence vote next week by Tory MPs.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa lost her appeal against a conviction for cyber libel, her news website Rappler said yesterday, in the latest blow for the veteran journalist. Ressa, 58, and her former colleague Rey Santos Jr face lengthy jail sentences, but the company said they will “avail of all legal remedies available to them”, including taking the case to the Supreme Court. The ruling comes less than two weeks after Philippine authorities ordered Rappler to shut down ahead of outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte’s last day in office. Yesterday Rappler described the decision to uphold the 2020 conviction as “unfortunate”, saying it “weakens the ability of journalists to hold power to account”. “What is ultimately at stake is our democracy whose strength rests on a media that is not threatened by the state nor intimidated by forces out to silence critical voices,” Rappler said. Ressa, who is currently in Manila, has long been a vocal critic of Duterte and the deadly drug war he launched in 2016, triggering what media advocates say is a grinding series of criminal charges, probes and online attacks against her and Rappler. She and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression”. In a statement yesterday, Norwegian Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said: “The criticism voiced through Rappler is well within the freedom of expression in a democratic society. I am gravely concerned that Maria Ressa is being prosecuted for exercising her rights of expression.” Ressa, who is also a US citizen, is fighting at least seven court cases, including the cyber libel case, for which she has been on bail and faces up to nearly seven years in prison. Rappler, which faces eight cases, had to fight for survival as Duterte’s government accused it of violating a constitutional ban on foreign ownership in securing funding, as well as tax evasion. The cyber libel law was introduced in 2012, the same year Rappler was founded. Its use against journalists was “troubling”, said Jonathan de Santos, chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. He called on Congress to descriminalise cyber libel, arguing that it was “no longer compatible with our constitution”. Just days before Duterte left office, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (PSEC) ordered Rappler to shut down for violating “constitutional and statutory restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media”. The news organisation is accused of allowing foreigners to take control of its website through its parent company Rappler Holdings’ issuance of “depositary receipts”. Under the constitution, investment in media is reserved for Filipinos or Filipino-controlled entities. Rappler said the PSEC’s decision “effectively confirmed the shutdown” of the company and vowed to appeal, describing the proceedings as “highly irregular”. Ressa said the company would continue to operate as they followed the legal process, but expressed hope that the situation would improve under Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. However, the company’s future and its battle in the country’s highly politicised legal system under Marcos Jr’s presidency is uncertain. Marcos Jr, who took over from Duterte on June 30, has given few clues about his views on the website and the broader issue of freedom of speech. Activists fear he could worsen the situation for human rights and freedom of speech in the country.
The fatal shooting of former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe from close range at a political rally yesterday has raised questions about protection for high-profile figures in a country where political violence and gun crimes are extremely rare. Dignitaries in Japan often travel with modest security details focused mainly on direct physical threats rather than being protected by the heavily-armed personnel braced for firearms attacks seen in places like the United States. Abe, 67, was campaigning in the western city of Nara for Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates ahead of an election tomorrow when he was shot, with Nippon TV saying the assailant was about 3m (10’) away. A 41-year-old was detained at the scene and police said the suspect had used a homemade gun. Police said other guns and explosives were found at the suspect’s home and that he had admitted to carrying out the attack. Officials from the Nara prefectoral police department told reporters that the request for security at the event was “sudden” and that the department would look into whether security was sufficient and take appropriate action. Nippon Television quoted Nara police as saying Abe was protected at yesterday’s rally by one armed specialised police officer and some other local officers. Nara police declined to say how many police officers were handling Abe’s security. When he was shot, Abe was standing at an intersection outside a train station, speaking to a crowd of hundreds as buses and vans passed behind his exposed back on the road where the assailant appeared. Several commentators said security around the former premier should have been stronger. “Anyone could have hit him from that distance,” Masazumi Nakajima, a former Japanese police detective, told Japan’s TBS television. “I think that security was a little too weak.” “The person needs to be covered from all directions,” Koichi Ito, a VIP security specialist, told national broadcaster NHK. “If this kind of thing isn’t carried out 100%, it’s no good.” Japanese officials, including former prime ministers, are protected by a special branch of the Tokyo police. The armed plainclothes officers known as SPs – or Security Police – go through a rigorous screening, including expertise in hand-to-hand combat. They typically stay close to the politician they are protecting to safeguard against direct physical threats. There were just 10 firearm-related incidents in Japan last year, only one of them fatal, according to the National Police Agency. Abe’s assassination was the first of a sitting or former Japanese premier since the 1930s during the days of Japan’s pre-war militarism. Former prime ministers Saito Makoto and Takahashi Korekiyo were assassinated on the same day in 1936, while then-Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated in 1932. Paul Nadeau, who has been on campaign events with Abe in the past, said that stump speeches like yesterday’s are “almost intimate events”. “The public is close by, they’re usually filling a town square in front of the train station,” said Nadeau, who previously worked for an LDP official and is now an adjunct professor at Temple University of Japan in Tokyo. “You never got any feeling of insecurity or danger or anything like that.” Iwao Horii, an LDP member who was standing next to Abe when he was shot, said preparations for the event were not unusual with about 15 party staff tasked with crowd control and security handled by the local police. All major parties announced suspensions of election campaign activities after the shooting. Several recent campaign events attended by Abe, who was Japan’s longest serving prime minister and one of the country’s most influential political figures, had drawn large crowds. One ruling party source told Reuters on condition of anonymity that despite Abe’s high profile, the level of security he was provided had likely dropped since he left office in 2020. Japan has very tight gun control laws. The suspected gunman shot at Abe with a device that had a pistol grip and two pipes covered in black electrical tape, according to photos and video images of the incident. Grant Newsham, a retired US Marine officer and former diplomat at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, said he would expect more caution and somewhat tighter protection of senior politicians in Japan following the assassination. “Questions will be being asked about security. Clearly security would have been far tighter for, say, (Prime Minister Fumio) Kishida,” added Robert Ward, a London-based senior fellow for Japanese Security Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But proximity to voters is a feature of Japanese campaigning. I’ve been at campaign rallies and the public is close. Perhaps this will change. If so, it would be a shame.”
World leaders condemned Friday's assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while paying tribute to him as a great leader. Here are some key comments: Britain British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the leadership role taken by the former premier, saying the UK stands with Japan "at this dark and sad time". "Incredibly sad news about Shinzo Abe. His global leadership through unchartered times will be remembered by many," Johnson tweeted. In a message of condolence sent to Japan's Emperor Naruhito, Queen Elizabeth II said she too was "deeply saddened" by the news of Abe's death, adding that she had "fond memories of meeting Mr Abe and his wife" when they visited the UK in 2016. Russia Russian President Vladimir Putin called the death an "irreplaceable loss". In a telegram to Abe's family, Putin called Abe an "outstanding statesman" who had done a lot to develop "good neighbourly ties between our countries". South Korea South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol termed the killing an "unacceptable act of crime". "I extend my consolation and condolences to his family and the Japanese people for having lost their longest-serving prime minister and a respected politician," Yoon said. France French President Emmanuel Macron said "Japan has lost a great prime minister". Abe had "dedicated his life to his country and worked for stability in the world", he said in a tweet. Germany German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed shock and solidarity with Japan over the killing. "The deadly attack on Shinzo Abe has left me aghast and deeply sad," the German leader tweeted. "I extend deep sympathy to his family, my colleague Fumio Kishida and our Japanese friends." India Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a day of national mourning in honour of Abe. "I am shocked and saddened beyond words at the tragic demise of one of my dearest friends, Shinzo Abe," Modi wrote on Twitter. "We stand in solidarity with our Japanese brothers and sisters in this difficult moment." Ukraine Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky extended his condolences to Abe's family. "Horrible news of a brutal assassination of former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. I am extending my deepest condolences to his family and the people of Japan at this difficult time. This heinous act of violence has no excuse," he tweeted. United States US President Joe Biden said he was "stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened" by the assassination. "This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him," Biden said in a statement. "Even at the moment he was attacked, he was engaged in the work of democracy." Former president Donald Trump also weighed in, saying the detained assassin "will hopefully be dealt with swiftly and harshly". Secretary of State Antony Blinken mourned Abe as a visionary leader who boosted relations between the two allies. Meeting his Japanese and South Korean counterparts jointly at a G20 meeting in Bali, Blinken said Abe "brought the relationship between our countries, the United States and Japan, to new heights". European Union "The brutal and cowardly murder" of Abe "shocks the world", European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. "I will never understand the brutal killing of this great man," said European Council President Charles Michel in a separate tweet. The Netherlands Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte termed the attack "cowardly", and said his thoughts were with Abe's loved ones and the Japanese people. "At today's cabinet meeting we paused to reflect on this dark day for Japanese democracy. I have fond memories of our friendship and the work we did together," he said. Italy Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that his country was "shocked by the terrible attack that hits Japan and its free democratic debate." Turkey "I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Abe, the former prime minister of Japan, in an armed attack. I condemn those who carried out this heinous attack," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. China The Chinese embassy in Japan said it was "shocked" by the shooting. "During his tenure, former Prime Minister Abe made contributions to the improvement and development of China-Japan relations. We express our condolences on his passing and express sympathy and solicitude for his family," an embassy spokesperson said. Australia "Shocking news from Japan that former PM Shinzo Abe has been shot," Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted after the attack. "Our thoughts are with his family and the people of Japan at this time." Indonesia Indonesian President Joko Widodo extended condolences on Twitter. "We will always remember his contributions in strengthening RI-Japan cooperation," he wrote. "May the family of PM Abe and the Japanese people be given strength in this difficult time." United Nations UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply saddened by the horrific killing", adding that he would "always remember his collegiality and commitment to multilateralism". Brazil Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro expressed "extreme indignation" at the killing and declared three days of official mourning in solidarity with Japan. Bolsonaro described Abe as a "brilliant leader" and "great friend of Brazil" in a tweet that included a photo of the two men shaking hands at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2019. "Let his murder be punished rigorously. We are with Japan," the far-right leader tweeted. Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of the archipelago, with about 1.9 million immigrants and descendants. Canada Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Abe's assassination "incredibly shocking". "The world has lost a great man of vision, and Canada has lost a close friend," he said, offering condolences to Abe's widow and the people of Japan.
* PM Kishida denounces attack on "foundation of democracy" * Police arrest suspect at the scene of attack * Police say attacker used homemade gun * Political violence rare, guns tightly controlled in Japan Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving leader of modern Japan, was gunned down on Friday while campaigning for a parliamentary election, shocking a country where guns are tightly controlled and political violence almost unthinkable. Abe, 67, was pronounced dead around five and a half hours after the shooting in the city of Nara. Police arrested a 41-year-old man and said the weapon was a homemade gun. "I am simply speechless over the news of Abe's death," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Abe's protege, told reporters. Earlier, as Abe still lay in hospital where doctors tried to revive him, Kishida struggled to keep his emotions in check. "This attack is an act of brutality that happened during the elections - the very foundation of our democracy - and is absolutely unforgivable," he said. Abe had been making a campaign speech outside a train station when two shots rang out. Security officials were then seen tackling a man in a grey T-shirt and beige trousers. "There was a loud bang and then smoke," businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who was at the scene, told Reuters. "The first shot, no one knew what was going on, but after the second shot, what looked like special police tackled him." Kyodo news service published a photograph of Abe lying face-up on the street by a guardrail, blood on his white shirt. People were crowded around him, one administering heart massage. Abe was taken to hospital in cardiopulmonary arrest and showing no vital signs. He was declared dead at 5:03 p.m. (0803 GMT), having bled to death from deep wounds to the heart and the right side of his neck. He had received more than 100 units of blood in transfusions over four hours, Hidetada Fukushima, the professor in charge of emergency medicine at Nara Medical University Hospital, told a televised news conference. Nara police said the shooter, identified in the media as Tetsuya Yamagami, was a Nara resident and had worked at Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Forces for three years but now appeared to be unemployed. The police said they were investigating whether he had acted alone. The suspect said he bore a grudge against a "specific organisation" and believed Abe was part of it, and that his grudge was not about politics, the police said, adding it was not clear if the unnamed organisation actually existed. Members of the public laid flowers near the spot where Abe fell. TV Asahi reported that Abe's body would be transferred to his Tokyo home on Saturday. It was the first killing of a sitting or former Japanese leader since a 1936 coup attempt, when several figures including two ex-premiers were assassinated. Post-war Japan prides itself on its orderly and open democracy. Senior Japanese politicians are accompanied by armed security agents but often get close to the public, especially during political campaigns when they make roadside speeches and shake hands with passersby. In 2007, the mayor of Nagasaki was shot and killed by a yakuza gangster. The head of the Japan Socialist Party was assassinated during a speech in 1960 by a right-wing youth with a samurai short sword. A few other prominent politicians have been attacked but not injured. Abe served two terms as prime minister, stepping down in 2020 citing ill health. But he remained a dominant presence over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), controlling one of its major factions. Kishida, who won the premiership with Abe's backing, said the LDP would continue election campaigning on Saturday to demonstrate its resolve to "never give in to violence", and to defend a "free and fair election at all cost". "I am stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened by the news that my friend Abe Shinzo, former Prime Minister of Japan, was shot and killed while campaigning," U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. "This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him... He was a champion of the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people." The United States is Japan's most important ally. Similar messages of sympathy and shock poured in from around the world following news of Abe's death, including from neighbouring Taiwan, China and Russia, as well as from across Asia, Europe and the United States. The yen rose and Japan's Nikkei index fell on news of the shooting, partially driven by a knee-jerk flight to safety. Abe is best known for his "Abenomics” policy of aggressive monetary easing and fiscal spending. He also bolstered defence spending after years of declines and expanded the military’s ability to project power abroad. In a historic shift in 2014, his government reinterpreted the postwar, pacifist constitution to allow troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two. The following year, legislation ended a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or defending a friendly country under attack. Abe, however, never achieved his goal of revising the U.S.-drafted constitution by writing the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan’s military is known, into the pacifist Article 9. Abe hailed from a wealthy political family that included a foreign minister father and a grandfather who served as premier. He first took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War Two. After a year plagued by political scandals, voter outrage at lost pension records, and an election drubbing for his ruling party, Abe quit citing ill health. He became prime minister again in 2012, winning three landslide elections in a row before stepping down in 2020, again citing his health.
Japan's government warned Monday of a power crunch as extreme heat hits the country, with temperature records toppling and Tokyo's rainy season declared over at the earliest date on record. Residents in and around the capital have been asked to conserve energy, particularly in the early evening. Temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) are forecast in Tokyo throughout Monday, and the mercury is not expected to drop below 34 until Sunday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). "We ask the public to reduce energy consumption during the early evening hours when the reserve ratio falls," Yoshihiko Isozaki, deputy chief cabinet secretary, told a regular press briefing. But he warned that residents should do what was needed to stay cool and avoid heatstroke. Much of Japan would normally be experiencing rainy season at this time of year, but the JMA on Monday declared the season over in the Kanto region, home to Tokyo, and neighbouring Koshin area. It was the earliest end to the season since records began in 1951 and a full 22 days earlier than usual. The agency also declared an end to rainy season in central Japan's Tokai and part of southern Kyushu, saying this year's rainy season in these areas and Kanto-Koshin was the shortest on record. On Sunday, Isesaki city in Gunma prefecture north of Tokyo logged the hottest temperature ever seen in Japan in June, at 40.2C. "Immediately after the rainy season ends, many people are yet to be fully acclimated to heat and face a greater risk of heat stroke," the weather agency warned in a statement. Asako Naruse, 58, was out sightseeing in Ginza alongside pedestrians carrying parasols for shade. "Every year, July and August are this hot, but it's the first time I've felt such heat in June," she told AFP. "I'm from northern Japan, so these temperatures seem really extreme."
Japan Friday for the first time joined fellow members of the Group of Seven industrialised nations in pledging to end public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of the year to help combat global warming. "We commit to end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022," G7 energy and climate ministers said in a joint statement following talks in Berlin. The term ‘unabated’ refers to projects that do not employ techniques to offset some of the pollution caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Ending subsidies for the international fossil fuel energy sector was already part of a series of commitments agreed to by around 20 countries at last year's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Six of the G7 club of rich nations were among the signatories at the time -- Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the United States -- but Japan had resisted until now. "It is good that Japan, the world's largest financier of fossil fuels, has now joined the other G7 countries in making a shared commitment to end overseas fossil fuel financing," said Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate policy think tank E3G. Friday's pledge still allows for some "limited" exceptions of fossil-fuel financing so long as they are consistent with the 2015 Paris pact to curb global temperature increases. But Meyer said countries wishing to do so would face "a very stiff bar to clear". At their G7 talks, ministers also committed to largely end the use of fossil fuels in their electricity sectors by 2035, despite heavy tensions in the power market over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "We further commit to a goal of achieving predominantly decarbonised electricity sectors by 2035," they said. - 'Absurdity' - To achieve this, member states promised to ramp up "the necessary technologies and policies for the clean energy transition" and accelerate the phase-out of coal. The pledge was welcomed by environmental campaigners, at a time when the war in Ukraine has sent energy prices soaring and Western countries are scrambling to wean themselves off Russian imports. "In a very difficult geopolitical situation, the G7 are united behind an end to fossil fuels by 2035 in the power sector. This is significant progress," said David Ryfisch of the Germanwatch environmental group. Speaking at the closing press conference, German Energy Minister Robert Habeck welcomed the pledges made by G7 nations, saying they sent a "strong signal for more climate protection". As well as a pledge to stop bankrolling fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of the year, Habeck highlighted the club's agreement to ditch all "inefficient fossil fuel subsidies" by 2025. "That we reward climate-damaging behaviour, either through direct subsidies or through tax advantages... is absurd and this absurdity has to stopped," he told reporters. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in order to maintain the goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, all financing of new fossil fuel projects must be stopped immediately. The Oil Change International campaign group has calculated that between 2018 and 2020, G20 countries alone provided $188 billion in financing for overseas oil, coal and gas projects.
Japan announced Thursday it will reopen to tourists from 36 countries starting June 10, ending a two-year pandemic closure, but travellers will only be allowed in with tour groups. The decision comes after the government last week said it would test allowing small group tours with visitors from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore from this month. On Thursday, the government revised border controls to resume accepting package tours from 36 countries and regions where the Covid situation is relatively stable, it said in a statement. The countries include Britain, Spain, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. Japan will also expand the number of airports that accept international flights to seven, adding Naha in its southern Okinawa prefecture and Chitose near Sapporo in northern Hokkaido. For most of the pandemic Japan has barred all tourists and allowed only citizens and foreign residents entry, though even the latter have periodically been shut out. All arrivals have to test negative before travel to Japan and most must be tested again on arrival, though triple-vaccinated people coming from certain countries can skip the additional test as well as a three-day quarantine required for others. Tour groups are expected to take responsibility for ensuring visitors respect Japan's near-universal mask-wearing and other measures that have helped keep the toll from Covid-19 comparatively low. Just how many people will be able to take advantage of the careful reopening is unclear. A daily cap on people entering Japan is to be doubled to 20,000 next month, though tour groups are not expected to be counted in that figure, local media has reported. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he wants to ease border control measures, but moves are expected to proceed slowly, with strong public support for the current restrictions. Japan welcomed a record 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019 and had been on track to achieve its goal of 40 million in 2020 before the pandemic hit.
On Japan’s bullet trains, dogs usually have to travel in a carrier, but yesterday they could stretch their paws and enjoy the scenery on a special pet-friendly express. At Ueno station in Tokyo, 21 furry passengers boarded the sleek shinkansen train for a one-hour ride to the resort town of Karuizawa with their owners. “We’re having fun,” Yukari Seino, 48, told AFP, petting her seven-month-old chihuahua named Chobi, perched comfortably on her lap. “We travel a lot together, but in the past I’ve felt bad about keeping my dog in a cage,” she said, adding that the journey had been stress-free so far. Other four-legged day trippers on board the first ever “doggy holiday” service run by Japan Railways included Pomeranians, a terrier and a pointy-eared, cheerful-looking Shiba Inu. “It’s like we’re at home. I’m happy we can ride the train without worrying,” said 39-year-old Yoko Okubo, who joined the trip with her corgi. Pets are allowed on the shinkansen but they must be kept inside a holder, and their total weight including the cage must not exceed 10kg. A whole carriage was dedicated to the pooches yesterday’s tour, a pilot project organised by railway company JR East and its subsidiary JR East Start Up. They are keen to organise more regular pet-friendly excursions in the future, Start Up official Shino Furukawa told AFP. “We’ve received requests from customers who want to have a relaxing time with their dogs on the train,” she said. “We want to create an environment where people can live in harmony with their pets, who are part of the family. This is a big step towards making pet-friendly public transport a reality.” Japanese trains are famous for being spotlessly clean, and one of the biggest challenges was to maintain the impeccable standards on board, she said. Staff put plastic covers on all the seats and brought four air purifiers into the carriage, which will be spruced up after the trip to remove all dog hair.
The leaders of Japan and Thailand announced a new defence agreement yesterday as well as plans to upgrade their economic relations, as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida wrapped up the last leg of a three-nation tour of southeast Asia. The agreement would facilitate the transfer of defence hardware and technology from Japan to Thailand, which has one of the region’s biggest and most equipped armies and a long history of ties with the US military. Further details of the deal were not disclosed. “This will help improve national defence and support investment from Japan in this activity which is an important goal for Thailand,” Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a joint statement read alongside Kishida. Prayut said he discussed improvements in supply chains and the drafting of a five-year economic partnership with Japan, Thailand’s biggest investor. Southeast Asia has for decades been an important region for Japan, hosting some of its biggest names in industry, from infrastructure, engineering and industrial zones to the manufacturing of vehicles and electronics. The region remains a battleground between the US, Japan’s close ally, and rival China, Southeast Asia’s biggest trade partner. On his three-day trip Kishida also visited Vietnam and Indonesia, where Japanese firms maintain a large presence. As the leader of Asia’s sole member of the Group of Seven (G7), Kishida discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during his trip to Southeast Asia, where only one nation — Singapore — has joined sanctions against Moscow.
Japanese rescuers on Monday confirmed the death of a child in a weekend sightseeing boat accident, raising the death toll to at least 11, as efforts to find survivors continued. The Kazu I was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew when it sent a distress signal on Saturday afternoon as it began to take on water in the frigid waters off Japan's northern Hokkaido island. Ten people were recovered and confirmed dead by early Sunday evening, and the coast guard said it retrieved a child later that night, whose death was confirmed on Monday morning. The boat sent the distress signal from off the coast of Japan's Shiretoko Peninsula, prompting the launch of an immediate search-and-rescue operation, though the remote nature of the location meant it took several hours for coast guard vessels and helicopters to arrive on the scene. All those on board were reportedly wearing life jackets, but hopes for survivors faded due to icy temperatures, with the water estimated to be at around two or three degrees Celsius. The boat had set out on Saturday morning on a sightseeing cruise of the sort that is popular in the Shiretoko Peninsula, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site for its pristine natural environment and diverse wildlife. The tour went ahead despite high winds and waves that reportedly prompted some local fishing boats to return to shore to avoid the worsening conditions. Japan's Self Defence Forces and police, as well as some local fishing boats, were assisting in the search operation, with local media saying bodies had been retrieved from both the water and coast. The transport ministry has sent officials to the company that operated the sightseeing boat to determine whether they were operating within safety guidelines, and to investigate the cause of the accident, a ministry spokesman told AFP. - 'Praying for their safety' - Those killed in the accident have not yet been identified, though officials said they included seven men and three women, in addition to the child. A man whose parents and brother were on the boat told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper that he had given them the tour as a present. "They may still be in the cold sea, but I'm praying for their safety," he told the newspaper. He said his parents had messaged him earlier in their trip to ask what souvenirs he would like, and soon after some crab and other Hokkaido specialities arrived at his house. He messaged them to say thank you, but got no reply. "I want to find out what happened to them as soon as possible, but I don't know what to do," he added. The Kazu I ran aground in shallow water in June last year, becoming stranded with 21 passengers and two crew members on board, according to Japanese media. The boat was able to leave the shallows on its own and returned to the port, but police investigated its captain for endangering traffic by negligence in the conduct of business. The Shiretoko Peninsula was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. It is well known for its unique wildlife, including the endangered Steller sea lion, as well as migratory birds and brown bears.
Japan’s famed cherry blossom season blankets the country in the delicate white flowers of the prized and popular “somei-yoshino” tree, delighting residents and visitors alike. But some want change. The season produces a nationwide frenzy, as forecasters compete to declare when full bloom will arrive, and Japanese unfurl picnic blankets for sometimes raucous flower-viewing parties — at least in pre-pandemic times. The blooms of the ubiquitous somei-yoshino strain, which accounts for more than 90% of the cherry trees planted in Japan, last only around a week and tend to emerge simultaneously in a given region because the trees are clones of a single specimen. And while the tree has become synonymous with blossom season, it is a growing headache for city planners because the strain is prone to disease and tends to grow too large to be well managed in urban settings. “It’s all about planting the right flora in the right place,” says Hideaki Tanaka, an expert on sakura — Japanese for cherry blossoms — who is trying to popularise other strains. “There are all kinds of sakura, not just somei-yoshino. I want to help recreate the old times when people enjoyed a wide variety,” added Tanaka, 63. He runs a farm in Yuki, in eastern Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture, with around 1,000 sample trees of 400 cherry varieties. His goal is to convince local officials across Japan to consider alternatives with petals in all shades of pink, or even rare green. As Tanaka sits on the grass among his trees, nail-sized petals of pale pink flutter down in the gentle breeze, while elsewhere other flowers are still coming into bloom. It’s a scene more like the cherry blossom seasons Japanese enjoyed several centuries ago, with a range of blooms arriving at different times. His farm is operated by the Flower Association of Japan, which gives cherry saplings to communities that want to create scenic spots to draw tourists and please residents. The farm has distributed about 3mn saplings, including somei-yoshino, but it is now promoting the “jindai-akebono” variety which is more resistant to infection and grows smaller, making it easier to prune. Its flowers bloom around four days earlier than somei-yoshino’s and are a stronger pink colour. But convincing Japan to turn its back on the somei-yoshino strain may not be easy. As urban development swept the country from the 1950s to 1980s, cities competed to plant countless millions of fast-growing somei-yoshino trees. Decades on, many of those trees have not been properly pruned, leaving them vulnerable to an infection called “witch’s broom” that deforms twigs, discourages flowering and can kill the trees. Somei-yoshino also grows large — as high as five-storey buildings in some cases — with sprawling branches stretching from enormous trunks that can develop hollows, and bulky roots that can crack pavements. Older trees are at risk during the country’s typhoon season, giving city planners plenty of reasons to consider replacing them. But residents are less convinced. In western Tokyo’s Kunitachi, it has taken officials three decades to remove around 80 of the approximately 210 trees that have been designated as needing to be felled or replaced. The trees formed an elegant floral tunnel every spring and residents wanted to keep them, said Ryusuke Endo, an official at the city’s roads and traffic division. “Some people moved here to enjoy them and bought apartments along the street,” he said, describing locals as emotionally attached to the trees.