TOKYO: Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would sever ties with the Unification Church following a widening scandal triggered by former premier Shinzo Abe's assassination in July.
Widespread cozy ties between members of the LDP, many of them belonging to Abe's faction, and the South Korean-born church have surfaced since the ex-prime minister was shot to death while giving a campaign speech in the southern city of Nara.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested at the scene, allegedly told police he killed Abe because of his apparent link to the church. In a letter seen by The Associated Press (AP) and social media posts believed to be his, Yamagami said he believed his mother's large donations to the church had ruined his life.
Some Japanese have expressed understanding, even sympathy, as details of the man's life emerged, creating deep implications for the political party that has governed Japan virtually uninterrupted since World War 2.
While religious groups must abide by the law, "politicians are strictly required to be careful about groups with social problems," Kishida said. Members of his Cabinet and other key posts have agreed to review their past links and cut ties with the church.
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"As president of the LDP, I honestly express my apology" for causing the public's doubts and concerns over the continuing revelations in media reports about the party's extensive ties to the church, the premier added.
The Unification Church, which was founded in South Korea in 1954 and came to Japan a decade later, has built close ties with a host of conservative lawmakers on their shared interests of opposing communism. Abe's maternal grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, was a key figure who helped the church's political unit in Tokyo.
Since the 1980s, the church has faced accusations of problematic recruiting, sales of religious items and donations, which often lead to financial strains on the followers' families and, according to experts, mental health of the adherents' children. The issues led to the government's decision to cut ties with the church.
Abe sent a video message last year to the Universal Peace Federation, an international group affiliated with the church, which experts say may have motivated the suspect in shooting him. Abe had praised the federation's co-founder Hak Ja Han Moon, also head of the church, for her effort in promoting traditional family values.
Experts and cult watchers also say the church has promoted its key agendas, such as the opposition to women's advancement and same-sex marriage, to influence policy.
Kishida shuffled his Cabinet earlier in August to purge seven ministers linked to the church. Among them was Abe's younger brother Nobuo Kishi, who acknowledged that church followers volunteered on his election campaigns. Dozens of LDP members have since come forward with their ties to the church and related organizations.
The prime minister told the news conference that he had instructed LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi to survey the party fully and compile compliance measures. Kishida said he was rushing the effort, but it might take time because the review would span decades.
The premier apologized over the loss of public trust in politics because of the scandal and his lack of explanation for hosting a state funeral for Abe, one of the most divisive leaders in Japan's postwar history.
The state funeral scheduled for September 27 has split public opinion. The only other state funeral in postwar Japan was for former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida, who signed the San Francisco Treaty that restored ties with the Allies and ended the American occupation of the East Asian country.
Kishida's Cabinet last week allocated at least a 250-million-yen ($1.8-million) budget to invite about 6,000 guests for the funeral to be held at the Budokan arena in Tokyo.