Japan is bidding farewell to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was killed on the campaign trail in July, with a rare state funeral that has deeply split the nation.
Some 4,000 mourners — including United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — are attending Tuesday’s ceremony for Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
The event began at 2pm local time (05:00 GMT) with Japan’s Self Defense Forces firing 19 shots in honour of the influential politician as his wife, Akie Abe, carried his ashes into Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan hall.
At a nearby park, thousands of Japanese people have been gathering since the morning to offer floral tributes to Abe.
But the state funeral has also prompted protests in downtown Tokyo, with demonstrators criticising Abe’s divisive legacy as well as the $11.5m bill for the event.
Revelations about ties between Abe, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Unification Church have also spurred outrage. Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, blames the church for his family’s financial ruin and has told investigators that he shot Abe on July 8 because of the prime minister’s support for the church. Since then, the Japanese media has reported extensively on how the church has forcibly extracted exorbitant donations from its followers in Japan.
An internal LDP survey has meanwhile found that nearly half the governing party’s 379 national legislators also have ties with the church and affiliated groups. These range from attending the church’s events to receiving donations and accepting volunteers for election support.