As thousands protest, Japan holds rare state funeral for ex-PM Abe 

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The controversial state funeral of assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe concluded on Tuesday evening amidst massive protests in central Tokyo city. 

Attended by dignitaries including US Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who considered Abe a personal friend, the funeral service took place at Nippon Budokan. More than 4,000 guests were invited, including around 700 foreign officials and ambassadors.

Among Japan’s royal family, Crown Prince Akishino and his wife joined the mourners in offering flowers at the end of the service.

Scores of police officers were dispatched to the funeral venue as about 300 protesters gathered to oppose the state government’s decision to hold a funeral with “taxpayers’ money”. Thousands had marched against the funeral, both because of its cost, estimated to be more than that of Queen Elizabeth, and the ruling party’s association with Unification Church, which was reportedly a reason for Abe’s assassination in the first place.

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For the public, two altars with pictures of the former prime minister were set up at Kudanzaka Park near the venue, where hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects and lay flowers. They started accepting offerings at 9.30 am (local time), 30 minutes earlier than planned.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu opened the funeral service with introductory remarks. A Self Defence Force band then played the national anthem and attendees observed a moment of silence.

In his eulogy, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described Abe as a “person of courage” while listing his achievements, including efforts to strengthen Japan’s diplomatic ties.

“I feel heart-breaking grief,” Kishida was quoted as saying. 

Also see | In pics: Japan, foreign dignitaries pay respects to Abe amidst protest

The growing resentment against the funeral was palpable among the public, as according to an NHK poll this month, around 57 per cent of the respondents surveyed said that they oppose the state funeral—only the second for a former premier in the post-war period in Japan.

“There are people struggling financially who suffered particularly under the ‘Abenomics’ policies. We must not forget this,” Ryo Machida, a 19-year-old student, told AFP news agency outside the Budokan.

Also read | LIVE | Narendra Modi, Kamala Harris pay respect to Shinzo Abe at state funeral

“He may have been a strong leader, but in hindsight, he was iron-fisted and anti-democratic,” he added.

Even the main opposition party Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) decided to skip the ceremony. 

Earlier, CDP leader Izumi Kenta pointed out that even former prime minister and Nobel laureate Sato Eisaku did not get a state funeral.

(With inputs from agencies)

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