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Man set himself on fire amid outcry over Shinzo Abe's state funeral plans

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By Euronews  with AP
Police and firefighters inspect the scene where a man is reported to set himself on fire, 21 September 2022
Police and firefighters inspect the scene where a man is reported to set himself on fire, 21 September 2022   -   Copyright  Kyodo News via AP

A man set himself on fire near the Japanese prime minister's office in Tokyo early Wednesday in a sign of protest against the state funeral for former leader Shinzo Abe.

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 supposedly written by the man was found that said, "Personally, I am absolutely against" Abe's funeral.

Tokyo authorities confirmed that the incident took place but refused to make further comments, including on a report that a police officer was caught in the fire.

The suspected immolation underscores a growing wave of protests against the funeral for Abe, one of the most divisive leaders in postwar Japanese politics. 

Abe has come under further public scrutiny because of his revisionist view of wartime history, security policies and his high-handed approach and cronyism, which were often criticised as autocratic. More protests are expected in the coming days, including the day of the funeral next week.

The incident also is an embarrassment for Japanese police, who have stepped up security for an event expected to be attended by about 6,000 people, including US Vice President Kamala Harris and other dignitaries.

Japanese grow dissatisfied with PM Kishida

Japanese 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 a campaign speech outdoors in July.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is in New York for the annual UN 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 Moscow's permanent veto and called for reforms that would allow the UN 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 ruling party's and Abe's links to the Unification Church, which built close ties with Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers over their shared interests in conservative causes.

The suspect in Abe's assassination reportedly believed his mother's 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 honour 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, with some saying that in deciding to hold a state funeral, Kishida aimed to please Abe's party faction and buttress his own power. 

As a result, support ratings for Kishida's government have weakened since Abe's assassination.

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.