Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was unhurt when an explosive device was thrown in his direction while campaigning at a fishing port in western Japan on Saturday, officials said, and he was evacuated safely. Smoke filled the air as officers pinned a suspect to the ground as screaming bystanders scrambled to flee the scene.
A police officer was slightly injured and Kishida continued to campaign on Saturday, but the chaotic scenes recalled the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nine months ago, when he also campaigned and continued to reverberate in Japanese politics. Kishida was visiting the port of Seikazaki in Wakayama prefecture to support his ruling party’s candidate in local elections when the blast came before he began his speech.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that a young man believed to be a suspect was arrested at the scene on Saturday for allegedly throwing a “suspicious object”. Matsuno declined to comment on the suspect’s motive or background, saying police were still investigating.
Television footage showed Kishida standing with his back to the crowd. His security personnel suddenly pointed to the ground near him, and the prime minister turned sharply, looking panicked. The camera pans quickly to the crowd, where several people, including police officers in uniform and plainclothes, gather around a young man wearing a white surgical mask and holding what appears to be another device, a long silver tube.
As they fell on the man and tried to remove the tube from his hand, there was a loud explosion near where Kishida had been standing. The crowd broke up in panic as police brutally dragged the man away.
It was not immediately clear what the explosive device was or how many suspects were involved, but some reports said it was a smoke grenade or pipe bomb, possibly with a delayed fuse.
The incident reportedly took place on the eve of a major international forum in Japan, and no one in the crowd was injured. Kishida was unhurt and continued his campaign speech later Saturday, Matsuno said. A policeman was slightly injured.
The on-site investigation continued until late at night. Japanese media reported that the suspect refused to speak to police until his lawyer arrived.
Kishida, who made no mention of the bombing, returned to the Tokyo area in the evening after Chiba campaigned for another candidate.
“Elections are at the heart of democracy, and threats of violence or obstruction should never be tolerated,” Matsuno said.
He said he instructed the national police to do its best to protect dignitaries visiting Japan in the run-up to the Group of Seven summit in May.
Abe assassinatedWhen he delivered a campaign speech in the western city of Nara, he stunned a country that prides itself on public safety and extremely strict gun control. Amid the nationwide outcry, police stepped up protections after a subsequent investigation uncovered Abe’s security lapses.
Security measures have also been stepped up in Japan as top diplomats from some of the world’s most powerful democracies arrive for Sunday’s event G7 foreign ministers meetingKishida will host the G7 leaders’ summit in his hometown of Hiroshima from May 19 to 21.
A witness told NHK television on Saturday that she was standing in the crowd when she saw something flying from behind. After a sudden loud noise, she fled with the child. Another witness said people were screaming and he saw people being arrested before the blast.
Saturday’s attack came ahead of local elections across the country, including by-elections for several vacant parliamentary seats, with votes scheduled for April 23.
In the Abe assassination, the former prime minister was shot with a homemade gun during a campaign speech. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, was charged with murder and several other crimes, including violating gun control laws.
He told investigators he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most influential and divisive politicians, because of the former prime minister’s apparent ties to a religious group he hated. In statements and social media posts attributed to him, Hill said he held a grudge because his mother made large donations to the Unification Church, bankrupting his family and ruining his life.
Abe’s assassination led to the resignation of local and national police chiefs and tightened security guidelines for political leaders and other prominent figures.
The Kishida government hopes to focus the world’s attention this weekend on the hot spring resort town of Karuizawa, where top diplomats will gather on Sunday for a so-called meeting of G7 foreign ministers.
Foreign ministers from Japan, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and the European Union are expected to focus on concerns over Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s increasingly belligerent rise and North Korea’s provocative series of weapons tests.
Mari Yamaguchi and Foster Klug, Associated Press
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