Japan prepared on Tuesday to bid farewell to Shinzo Abe, a polarizing figure who dominated Japanese politics for decades as the country’s longest-serving prime minister, before he was shot dead during a campaign rally on Tuesday. last week.
Long lines of people dressed in black, mixed with others dressed in informal clothes with backpacks, formed outside Zojoji Temple in central Tokyo, the site of Abe’s funeral, in the early hours of the morning as ordinary people came to pay their respects.
They followed hundreds of people who came to the temple on Monday evening to pay their respects to Abe, who died aged 67. His killing on Friday by an unemployed man wielding a homemade weapon stunned a nation where gun crime and political violence are extremely rare.
Keiko Noumi, a 58-year-old teacher, was one of many who came to offer prayers and flowers under cloudy skies to a large photograph of Abe set up inside the temple showing him in a simple white shirt, laughing with his hands on his hips.
“There was a sense of security when he was prime minister in charge of the country,” she said. “I really supported him, so it’s very unfortunate.”
The 1:00 p.m. (04:00 GMT) ceremony itself is open to family and close friends only.
After the funeral, the hearse carrying Abe’s body will drive through downtown Tokyo, where black mourning ribbons draped Japanese flags.
The procession will wind through the political heart of the capital, Nagatacho, including landmarks such as the parliament building which Abe first entered as a young lawmaker in 1993, and the office from which he led the nation in two terms as prime minister, the longest from 2012 to 2020.
Tributes poured in from international leaders, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken making a brief stopover en route to the United States from Southeast Asia on Monday morning to pay their respects. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Taiwanese Vice President William Lai, on a private visit as a friend of the family, also joined the mourners.
French leader Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences in images posted to the country’s official presidential Twitter account after his visit to the Japanese Embassy in Paris.
“I remember all our meetings and our work together, especially during my visit (to Japan) in 2019… I lost a friend”, declared a solemn Macron.
“He served his country with great courage and audacity.”
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 had made a ‘huge donation’, the news agency said. Kyodo, citing investigators.
The Unification Church, known for its mass marriages and worshipers, said on Monday that the suspect’s mother was one of its members. Reuters could not determine if the mother belonged to other religious organizations.
Yamagami fired at Abe from behind, discharging two rounds from a 40 cm-long (16 in) improvised weapon wrapped in black duct tape.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference on Tuesday that the Japanese government would consider whether there was a need for further regulation of homemade firearms.
“We are aware that the current regulations strictly restrict firearms, whether homemade or not,” he said.