Japanese mourners pay last respects to Shinzo Abe at funeral

Members of the Japan information and study centre hold a candlelight vigil to pay tribute to the late former prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, at Ahmedabad Management Association in Ahmedabad on July 9, 2022, after Abe was shot dead during a campaign speech on July 8 in Nara.

Thousands of mourners are showing up to pay their last respects to former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday.

The private funeral, which is only open to friends and close family, is under way at Tokyo’s Zojoji temple. Following the funeral, the hearse bearing Abe’s body will proceed through downtown Tokyo.

The 67-year-old was shot dead last Friday while delivering a campaign speech in Nara in southern Japan. Inside the Zojoji temple, Buddhist rites are being carried out. Outside and across Tokyo, flags are flying at half mast.

A funeral procession on Tuesday afternoon will pass by landmarks like the parliament building, which Abe first entered as a lawmaker in 1993, and the office from which he led the nation as prime minister.

People line up to offer flowers as they attend the funeral of late former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan July 12, 2022.

Abe was Japan’s longest serving post-war prime minister and one of its most influential politicians. Police said the gunman targeted him due to grievances he had with a religious group that he believed Abe was a part of. The attack sent shockwaves through a nation where incidences of gun violence are extremely rare.

A vigil held on Monday evening drew hundreds of dignitaries as well as thousands of ordinary Japanese citizens who came to lay flowers. “I came here to offer flowers because I think he gave the Japanese something to be proud about,” said Emi Osa. Abe was delivering a campaign speech in support of a candidate for Japan’s upper house election when he was shot twice.

Footage of the attack showed the gunman, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, using a makeshift weapon made of metal and wood and held together by duct tape. Abe suffered two bullet wounds to his neck and damage to his heart during the attack. He was said to be conscious and responsive in the minutes after the attack, but doctors said no vital signs were detected by the time he was transferred for treatment.

Police are still investigating what the gunman’s motives were and whether he acted alone.

The shooting left Japan, a country unaccustomed to gun crimes and political violence, profoundly shaken. On average, there are fewer than 10 gun-related deaths in the country each year.

Guns are extremely difficult to acquire, and mandatory training, extensive background checks and psychological evaluation are required before permits are granted.

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