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Unification Church promises reform after Shinzo Abe murder


TOKYO — The Unification Church, whose close ties to Japan’s ruling party emerged after the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, admitted on Thursday that it had accepted “excessive” donations from the suspect’s mother, and that she should seriously consider whether this leads to murder.

Abe was shot during an outdoor campaign speech in July. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he killed Abe because of his apparent connection to a religious group he hated. A letter and social media posts attributed to him said his mother’s large donations to the church had bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

Hideyuki Teshigawara, a senior church official, now calling itself the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, told a news conference he was “deeply saddened” to hear that Yamagami had told police that his anger towards the church led to the attack.

Teshigawara said he is carrying out reforms in the church to ensure that his recruitment and donations are not coerced or harmful to congregants or their families.

The church has acknowledged Yamagami’s mother donated more than 100 million yen ($700,000), including life insurance and real estate, to the group. He said he later returned about half at the request of the suspect’s uncle.

A church lawyer, Nobuya Fukumoto, said he considered Yamagami’s mother’s donations “excessive” and that “we must take it seriously if it has tormented (the suspect) and led to the result”.

The police investigation into Abe’s murder has led to revelations of widespread links between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including Abe, and the South Korea-based church over their shared interests in conservative causes.

An LDP survey found nearly half of its lawmakers had ties to the church. Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to sever all those ties, but many Japanese want an additional explanation for how the church may have influenced party policies.

Kishida has been criticized for his handling of the church controversy as well as pushing state funeral plans for Abe, and his government’s support ratings plummeted. Abe is one of Japan’s most controversial leaders, and plans for next Tuesday’s state funeral have grown increasingly unpopular as more details have emerged about Abe’s and party’s ties. with the church.

A man set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on Wednesday in an apparent protest against a state funeral. The man suffered severe burns but was conscious when taken to hospital. Police said it was a suicide attempt and declined to provide further details. Media reported that he had a note expressing his opposition to the state funeral.

The suicide attempt amid tight security embarrassed police, who have previously been accused of providing Abe with insufficient protection.

State funerals for prime ministers are rare in Japan. Kishida said Abe deserved the honor of being Japan’s longest-serving leader after World War II and for his diplomatic and economic achievements.

Critics say the plan for a state funeral was decided on undemocratically, has no legal basis and is an inappropriate and costly use of taxpayers’ money. Political analysts say Kishida decided to hold a state funeral to please Abe’s party faction and bolster his own power.

A leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, Katsuya Okada, told a group of reporters on Thursday that there were many problems with holding a state funeral and party leaders would boycott the event.

“The most unfortunate thing is that the state funeral is taking place when the majority of people are against it, which I think is also unfortunate for former Prime Minister Abe,” Okada said. “Prime Minister Kishida should have taken a decision with more caution.”

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