Japan: Slain former PM Abe mourned as ruling party secures sombre election win

Japan: Slain former PM Abe mourned as ruling party secures sombre election win
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida consolidated authority within his ruling party after a strong election result virtually ensured him three more years as premier, even as the party mourned the killing of leading power broker Shinzo Abe.
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The ruling conservative coalition, led by Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party, extended its majority in the upper house of parliament [source: Getty]

With flags at half-mast, Japan mourned the killing of former premier Shinzo Abe on Monday even as the ruling party that he had dominated secured an election win that gives current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida the chance to cement his own power.

Mourners including US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen streamed into a Tokyo temple for a private wake for Abe on Monday evening, three days after he was gunned down at an election rally. A private funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.

Authorities have raised questions about security after Abe, Japan's longest-serving premier, was shot from close range while making a campaign speech in the western city of Nara, in an attack that has stunned a nation where gun violence is rare.

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"There is a profound sense of sorrow at his loss," Yellen told reporters outside the temple.

The suspect, 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 investigative sources.

The Unification Church, a controversial group known for its mass weddings and devoted followers sometimes derogatorily called "Moonies", said on Monday the suspect's mother was one of its members.

Neither Abe nor Yamagami were members of the church, said Tomihiro Tanaka, president of the Japan branch of the church, officially called Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Nor was Abe an adviser to the church, Tanaka said, adding that it would cooperate 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.

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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.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Kishida during a brief stopover on Monday to offer condolences on behalf of US President Joe Biden.

"I shared with our Japanese colleagues the sense of loss, the sense of shock that we all feel - connected people feel - at this horrific tragedy," said Blinken.

"But mostly, I came at the president's behest because more than allies, we're friends. And when a friend is hurting, other friends show up."

Kishida, Yellen and US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel were among hundreds heading to Monday's wake at Tokyo's Zojoji temple, where the former premier's body lay.

A line of black sedan cars, including several with diplomatic plates, dropped off mourners, some mopping their brows as they queued beneath the steps leading to the temple in the sultry heat.

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 has gained unusually large breathing space to attempt to implement an ambitious agenda that includes expanding defence spending and revising Japan's pacifist constitution - a long-held dream of Abe's before ill health led to his resignation.

Abe led the largest faction within the LDP, and analysts said his death could lead to potential turmoil within the party that might challenge Kishida's control.

Kishida told a news conference that he would take up the difficult problems that Abe was not able to resolve, such as revising the constitution, adding that he hoped there could be discussions on the topic during the next session of parliament.

"We gained strength from voters for stable government of this nation," Kishida told a news conference.