Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida returned to the campaign trail after being targeted by an explosive device at an event he attended in central Japan, weeks before he hosts the Group of Seven world leaders for a summit.
A 24-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion he threw an explosive in Kishida’s direction just as he was about to give a speech to a crowd in the western prefecture of Wakayama, Kyodo News said, citing sources close to the investigation. Kishida was evacuated unharmed, and later resumed his schedule of speeches ahead of a series of by-elections. One police officer was slightly injured.
The event has chilling echoes of the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a stump speech before last year’s upper house elections. Five by-elections are set to be held next weekend, including in the constituency left vacant by Abe’s death.
The incident also calls into question security arrangements for the G-7 summit to be held in May in Kishida’s home town of Hiroshima, as well as related ministerial meetings all over the country.
The premier was touring a fishing port in support of a candidate from his Liberal Democratic Party and was about to address a gathering when the blast occurred. Video shown by broadcaster TBS on its website showed a young man with a backpack being tackled and held down by a group of people, followed by the sound of an explosion and screams, while smoke spread across the area.
“We are now holding elections, which are the most important thing for our country,” Kishida said in a speech broadcast by NHK following the incident. “With your help, I want to push through with this important election to the end.”
Support for the premier has been buoyed in recent weeks by his visit to Ukraine, as well as progress toward reconciliation in a long-running feud with South Korea. That’s renewed speculation that he might call a general election in the coming months if the by-elections and summit both go smoothly.
Showing fortitude in the face of the latest incident could bolster Kishida and his party in the by-elections, an analyst said.
“Continuing with his campaign speeches will be well received by voters,” said Shigenobu Tamura, a political analyst who previously worked for Kishida’s main ruling Liberal Democratic Party. “They will appreciate him continuing with his duties regardless of what might happen to him.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that police were looking into the motive and background of the suspected perpetrator. He added that he had instructed them to be thorough in protecting VIPs ahead of the summit.
Security had already been a high priority for the G-7 summit set for May 19-21 following the shock of last year’s assassination. G-7 ministers are also having meetings on the northern island of Hokkaido and in the resort town of Karuizawa this weekend.
A representative of the Wakayama police department declined to comment to Bloomberg News.
Ruling and opposition politicians condemned the incident. Hiroshi Moriyama, the election chair of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said on NHK that it was deplorable for such a thing to happen during elections, calling them the foundation of democracy. “It’s an unforgivable act of violence,” he said.
—With assistance from Kana Nishizawa, Go Onomitsu, Takashi Hirokawa and Takahiko Hyuga.
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