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Japan’s PM promises his party will cut ties with the Unification Church

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday his ruling party would sever ties with the Unification Church following a growing scandal sparked by the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe last month. He also apologized for causing a loss of public confidence in politics.

Comfortable and widespread ties between members of Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, many of whom belong to Abe’s faction, and the South Korean-born church have surfaced since Abe was shot while he was giving a campaign speech in July.

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagani, who was arrested at the scene, reportedly told police he killed Abe because of his apparent connection to the church. In a letter seen by The Associated Press and social media posts believed to be his, Yamagani said he believed his mother’s large donations to the church had ruined his life.

Some Japanese expressed understanding, even sympathy, as details about the man’s life emerged, creating profound implications for the political party that has ruled Japan virtually continuously since World War II.

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While religious groups must abide by the law, “politicians are strictly required to pay attention to groups with social problems,” Kishida said. Members of his cabinet and other key positions agreed to review their past ties and cut ties with the church.

“As chairman of the LDP, I sincerely express my apologies” for raising public doubts and concerns over continued media revelations about the party’s close ties to the church, Kishida said.

The church has a long history with conservative politicians

The Unification Church, which was founded in South Korea in 1954 and came to Japan a decade later, has forged close ties with a host of conservative lawmakers over their shared interests in opposing communism. Abe’s grandfather and former prime minister, Nobusuke Kishi, was a key figure who helped found the church’s political unity in Tokyo in 1968.

Since the 1980s, the church has faced accusations of problematic recruiting, the sale of religious items and donations, which often lead to financial hardship for the families of worshipers and, according to experts, the mental health of the children of the church. faithful.

Members of the Unification Church in Seoul, South Korea, take part in a protest against what they call discriminatory and unfair Japanese media coverage of their church since the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe . (Ju-min Park/Reuters)

Abe last year sent a video message to the Universal Peace Federation, an international church-affiliated group, which experts believe may have motivated the suspect in Abe’s shooting. Abe had praised the federation’s co-founder, Hak Ja Han Moon, who is also the head of the church, for her efforts in promoting traditional family values.

Experts and cult-watchers also say the church has promoted its key agendas such as opposing the advancement of women and same-sex marriage to influence policy.

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Some links already cut

Kishida reshuffled his cabinet earlier in August to purge seven church-linked ministers. Among them was Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who admitted that church worshipers had volunteered for his election campaign. Dozens of LDP members have since disclosed their links to the church and related organizations.

Kishida told the press conference that he had instructed LDP General Secretary Toshimitsu Motegi to fully investigate the party on any other member’s links to the church. Kishida said he was rushing the effort, but it took time because the review will span decades.