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Japanese leaders mark 1 year since the assassination of former prime minister

Shinzo Abe was assassinated on July 8, 2022, during an election campaign speech
People offer prayers for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Zojoji temple in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, July 8, 2023. Japan marked first anniversary of the death of Abe who was shot while giving an outdoor campaign speech.(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Japanese political and business leaders on Saturday (July 8) marked one year since the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledging to tackle pressing political goals as a way of honoring Abe’s wishes.

At a Buddhist temple Zojoji in Tokyo, Kishida and his governing Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, as well as representatives from opposition parties and business leaders, attended a closed memorial service hosted by Abe’s widow Akie Abe and the family. Tables were set up at the temple for flower laying by the public later Saturday.

Abe was assassinated on July 8, 2022, during an election campaign speech.

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, was arrested at the scene and was charged with murder and several other crimes, including violating the gun control law. A date for his trial hasn’t been set.

Yamagami has told investigators that he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most influential and divisive politicians, because of the former prime minister’s apparent links to a religious group that he hated. In statements and in social media postings attributed to him, Yamagami said he developed a grudge because his mother had made massive donations to the Unification Church that bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

At a separate memorial Saturday attended by governing party lawmakers and conservative academics, Kishida recalled Abe used to cheer him up when he was struggling to make difficult decisions.

“Whenever I’m alone worrying if I was doing the right thing, I remember former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s words, saying that ‘Kishida-san, now you have beome Prime Minister, you should just go straight on the path you believe in,’” he said.

Teary Akie Abe said she could not stop crying since the morning thinking about the day a year ago. “But my husband won’t come back, so I’m trying to figure out how I can make my husband’s death meaningful.”

Abe, born into a prominent political family and Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, bolstered Japan’s military role and promoted the “free and open” Indo-Pacific vision now inherited by Kishida. Abe maintained influence even after stepped down as prime minister in 2020.

An anti-China hawk, Abe was remembered by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who tweeted Saturday in Japanese that Abe had demonstrated his support for Taiwan and promoted deeper exchanges between the two sides. Tsai noted that Abe had advocated the idea of “a Taiwan contingency is a contingency for Japan,” as tensions have risen between the self-ruled island democracy and China, which claims it as its territory to be united by force if necessary.

In Nara, near the site of Abe’s assassination, dozens of people lined up from early Saturday to lay flowers.

The investigation has led to revelations of years of cozy ties between Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church. Former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s grandfather, helped the church take root in Japan in the 1960s over shared interests in conservative and anti-communist causes.

Kishida’s popularity has plunged over his handling of the church controversy and his insistence on holding a state funeral for Abe in September last year.


Associated Press video journalist Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.

Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press