Japanese man sets himself on fire over Abe’s state funeral

Shinzo Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, but recent polls show more than half of the public opposes the ceremony.

Police officers in blue overalls with 'investigator' written on the back work at the site where a man set himself on fire near the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Japan.
Police officers and firefighters investigate the scene where a man set himself on fire. He has been taken to hospital with burns across his whole body [Kyodo via Reuters]

A man has set himself on fire near the Japanese prime minister’s Tokyo office in an apparent protest over the government’s plans to hold a state funeral for former leader Shinzo Abe later this month, Japanese media reported.

TV Asahi said the man set himself alight early on Wednesday and was taken to hospital suffering burns to his entire body. A police officer who tried to extinguish the flames was also injured.

The Kyodo news agency and other outlets said police were called to the scene at about 7am (22:00GMT) after reports a man was “engulfed in flames”. A letter opposing Abe’s state funeral was found nearby, it added.

Police, the prime minister’s office and the cabinet office all declined to comment on the reports.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was killed while campaigning for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on July 8. A publicly-funded state funeral will be held in Tokyo on September 27, with some 6,000 people from Japan and overseas set to attend.

But state funerals are rare in Japan, and the decision has been controversial. Recent polls show more than half of the public is against the event.

The opposition is linked partly to growing revelations of the links between the LDP and the controversial Unification Church. The suspect in Abe’s death has said the organisation bankrupted his mother and he felt the former prime minister supported it.

The Unification Church was founded in South Korea in the 1950s, and the LDP earlier this month said a survey showed nearly half of its 379 legislators had some form of interaction with an organisation that has been labelled a cult.

While the Japanese public was narrowly in favour of a state funeral at the time it was announced, shortly after Abe’s death, opinion has shifted sharply, damaging support for current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

A poll by the Mainichi Daily conducted at the weekend showed Kishida’s support at 29 percent, down six percentage points from late August — a level analysts say makes it difficult for a prime minister to have enough support to carry out his agenda.

Support for the LDP fell 6 points to 23 percent, the Mainichi said.

Kishida has defended his decision repeatedly, but a vast majority of voters remain unconvinced, also questioning the need to hold such an expensive ceremony at a time of growing economic pain for many citizens.

According to its latest estimates, the government expects to spend 1.65 billion yen ($11.5m) on the event at Tokyo’s Budokan, a large venue for concerts and sporting events.

World leaders, including US Vice President Kamala Harris and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, are among those expected to attend.

Abe was Japan’s best-known politician and remained a prominent public figure after resigning for health reasons in 2020.

Source: News Agencies