TOKYO – A man set himself on fire near the Japanese prime minister's office in Tokyo on Wednesday in an apparent protest against the state funeral planned next week for former leader Shinzo Abe, officials and media reports said.
The man, believed to be in his 70s, sustained burns on large parts of his body but was conscious and told police that he set himself on fire after pouring oil over himself, Kyodo News agency reported.
A note was found with him that said, “Personally, I am absolutely against” Abe’s funeral, Kyodo reported.
A Tokyo Fire Department official confirmed that a man set himself afire on the street in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki government district and that he was alive when he was taken to a hospital by ambulance, but declined to give further details, including the man’s identity, motive or condition, citing the sensitivity of what was a police matter.
Police called it an attempted suicide and refused to give further details because the case involved no criminal intent. Police also declined to comment on a report that a police officer was caught in the fire.
The incident underscores a growing wave of protests against the funeral for Abe, who was one of the most divisive leaders in postwar Japanese politics because of his revisionist view of wartime history, support for a stronger military, and what critics call an autocratic approach and cronyism. More protests are expected in coming days, including the day of the funeral next week.
It also is an embarrassment for police, who have stepped up security for an event expected to be attended by about 6,000 people, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and other dignitaries.
Police were also partly blamed for insufficient protection of Abe, who was shot to death by a gunman who approached him from behind as he was giving an outdoor campaign speech in July.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting of world leaders. He gave a speech Tuesday expressing disappointment over the Security Council's failure to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine because of Russia’s permanent veto and called for reforms that would allow the U.N. to better defend global peace and order.
The planned state funeral for Abe has become increasingly unpopular among Japanese as more details emerge about the governing Liberal Democratic Party's and Abe's links to the Unification Church, which built close ties with party lawmakers over their shared interests in conservative causes.
The suspect in Abe’s assassination reportedly believed his mother’s large donations to the church ruined his family. The LDP has said nearly half its lawmakers have ties to the church, but party officials have denied ties between the party as an organization and the church.
Kishida has said Abe deserves the honor of a state funeral as Japan’s longest-serving post-World War II leader and for his diplomatic and economic achievements.
Critics have said it was decided undemocratically and is an inappropriate and costly use of taxpayers’ money. They say Kishida decided to hold a state funeral to please Abe’s party faction and buttress his own power. Support ratings for Kishida's government have weakened amid public dissatisfaction over his handling of the party's church ties and the funeral plans.
A family funeral for Abe was held at a Buddhist temple in July. The state funeral is scheduled for next Tuesday at the Budokan martial arts arena in Tokyo.