TOKYO: A man set himself on fire near the Japanese prime minister’s office on Wednesday after expressing opposition to a state funeral for assassinated ex-premier Shinzo Abe, local media said.
Police declined to confirm the incident, but the government said an individual with burns had been found near government property.
“We are aware that a man with burns was found by a police officer at 7:00 am (2200GMT) this morning at an intersection below the cabinet office,“ top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said.
“But details are currently being examined by police,“ he added, declining to answer further questions on the incident.
TV Asahi said the man set himself alight after telling police he was opposed to the planned ceremony for Abe, which is scheduled for next week.
The television station said a police officer who tried to extinguish the fire was injured in the process.
Kyodo news agency and other outlets said police were called to the scene after reports a man was “engulfed in flames”.
The agency said a note was found near the man, expressing his opposition to the funeral.
An AFP reporter at the site several hours later saw a scorched patch of grass and bush, with police and media nearby.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot dead on July 8 while campaigning, and a publicly funded state funeral honouring him will be held on September 27.
But state funerals are rare in Japan, and the decision has been controversial. Recent polls show more than half of the public is opposed to the idea.
Abe was Japan’s best-known politician, and remained a prominent public figure after resigning for health reasons in 2020.
He was campaigning for ruling-party candidates in upper-house elections in the Nara region, when he was shot by a man who allegedly believed the former leader had ties to the Unification Church.
- World leaders expected -
The assassination prompted shock and international condemnation, but a decision by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to authorise a state funeral has proved contentious.
Abe was far from universally popular, and many opposed his hawkish nationalist views or were angered by persistent allegations he was involved in cronyism.
The ceremony for Abe is expected to cost at least 1.7 billion yen ($12 million.)
Kishida, who is currently in New York to address the UN General Assembly, has defended the plan, insisting Abe’s record-breaking tenure and international standing mean he merits the ceremony.
But the prime minister has seen his approval ratings take a hit over the decision, as well as swirling controversy about ties between politicians and the Unification Church.
Tetsuya Yamagami, the man accused of shooting Abe, reportedly resented the church over his mother’s membership and hefty donations that left his family bankrupt.
The church, whose members are sometimes colloquially called the “Moonies” after Korean founder Sun Myung Moon, has been accused of pressuring believers to make sometimes ruinous donations -- accusations it denies.
While Abe was not a member of the church, he addressed affiliated groups, and his death caused renewed scrutiny of the sect and its ties to politicians in Japan.
An investigation by Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party found that around half its lawmakers had ties to the sect.
He has pledged that the party will cut all ties to the church, which has denied any wrongdoing.
Abe’s state funeral will be held 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. - AFP