With flowers, prayers and a 19-gun salute, Japan honoured slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday at the first state funeral for a former premier in 55 years – a ceremony that has become as controversial as he was in life.
The ceremony started at 2:00 pm (0500 GMT), with Abe’s ashes carried into the Nippon Budokan Hall in central Tokyo by his widow, Akie, to music from a military band and the booms of the honour-guard salute, which echoed inside the hall.
Thousands of mourners flooded to designated spots near the venue from early morning to pay their last respects.
About 4,300 people attended the funeral ceremony itself, along with at least 48 current or former government figures, including US Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Abe’s killing at a July 8 campaign rally set off a flood of revelations about ties between lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) he once ran and the Unification Church, which critics call a cult, sparking a backlash against current premier Fumio Kishida.
With his support ratings dragged to their lowest ever by the controversy, Kishida has apologised and vowed to cut party ties to the church.
But opposition to honouring Abe with a state funeral, the first such event since 1967, has persisted, fed by an $11.5-million price tag to be borne by the state at a time of economic pain for ordinary citizens.
Japan’s longest-serving prime minister was a divisive figure who was dogged by scandals.
An unapologetic nationalist, Abe pushed the country toward a muscular defence posture that many now see as prescient amid growing concern about China, but others criticised as too hawkish.