Japan votes for key election in shadow of Abe assassination

Japan votes for key election in shadow of Abe assassination
Abe was shot in Nara on Friday and airlifted to a hospital but died of blood loss. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2022

Japan votes for key election in shadow of Abe assassination

Japan votes for key election in shadow of Abe assassination
  • Police arrested a former member of Japan’s navy at the scene
  • Abe’s assassination ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election shocked the nation and raised questions over whether adequate security was provided for the former prime minister.

TOKYO: Japanese went to the polls Sunday in the shadow of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, gunned down while making a campaign speech for the governing party that cruises to a likely major victory.
Amid voting Sunday, police in western Japan sent the alleged assassin to a local prosecutors’ office for further investigation toward pressing murder charges, the day after a top regional police official acknowledged possible security lapses that allowed the attacker to get so close and fire a bullet into the still-influential former Japanese leader.
In a country still recovering from the shock, sadness and fear of Abe’s shooting — the first of a former or serving leader to be assassinated in postwar Japan — polling started for half of the upper house, the less powerful of Japan’s two-chamber parliament.
Abe was shot in Nara on Friday and airlifted to a hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested a former member of Japan’s navy at the scene. Police confiscated his homemade gun and several others were later found at his apartment.
The alleged attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s rumored connection to an organization that he resented, police said, but had no problem with the former leader’s political view. The man had developed hatred toward a religious group that his mother was obsessed about and that bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, including some that identified the group as the Unification Church.
Abe’s body, in a black hearse accompanied by his wife, Akie, returned to his home in Tokyo’s upscale residential area of Shibuya, where many mourners, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, their predecessors and top party officials, paid tribute. His wake and funeral are expected in coming days.
Nara prefectural police chief Tomoaki Onizuka on Saturday said that Abe’s assassination was his “greatest regret” in his 27-year career. He said problems with security were undeniable, that he took the shooting seriously and will review the guarding procedures.
Abe’s assassination ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election shocked the nation and raised questions over whether adequate security was provided for the former prime minister.
Some observers who watched videos of the attack noted a lack of attention in the open space behind Abe as he spoke.
Experts also said Abe was more vulnerable standing on the ground level instead of atop a campaign vehicle, a standard for premier-class politicians, but that option was reportedly unavailable due to his hastily arranged visit to Nara.
Mitsuru Fukuda, a crisis management professor at Nihon University, said police were seen focusing frontward and paying little attention to what was behind Abe, noting that the suspect was approaching the former leader unnoticed until he fired the first shot.
“Clearly there were problems,” Fukuda said.
The first shot narrowly missed Abe and hit an election vehicle. The second entered from his upper left arm damaged his neck artery, causing massive bleeding and death.
Fukuda said that election campaigns provide a chance for voters and politicians to interact because “political terrorism” was extremely rare in postwar Japan. It’s a key democratic process, but Abe’s assassination could prompt stricter security at crowded events like campaigns, sports games and others.
On Saturday, when party leaders went out for their final appeals under heightened security, there were no more fist-touches — a COVID-19 era alternative to handshakes — or other close-proximity friendly gestures they used to enjoy.
After Abe’s assassination, Sunday’s election had a new meaning, with all political leaders emphasizing the importance of free speech and their pledge not to back down to violence against democracy.
“We absolutely refuse to let violence shut out free speech,” Kishida said in his final rally in northern city of Niigata on Saturday amid tightened security. “We must demonstrate that our democracy and election will not back down to violence.”
According to the Asahi newspaper, Yamagami was a contract worker at a warehouse in Kyoto, operating a forklift. He was described as a quiet person in the beginning but started ignoring rules that led to quarrels with his colleagues, then he started missing work and quit in April citing health problems. A next-door neighbor at his apartment told Asahi he never met Yamagami, though he recalled hearing noises like a saw being used several times late at night over the past month.
Japan is known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, it had only 21 gun-related criminal cases in 2020, 12 of them gang-related, according to the latest government crime paper. Experts say, however, some recent attacks involved use of consumer items such as gasoline, suggesting increased risks for ordinary people to be embroiled in mass attacks.
While media surveys have predicted a major victory for the governing Liberal Democratic Party amid fractured and weak opposition, a wave of sympathy votes from Abe’s assassination could bring a bigger victory than Kishida’s modest goal of winning the house majority.
Even after stepping down as prime minister in 2020, Abe was highly influential in the LDP and headed its largest faction. His absence could change power balance in the governing party that almost uninterruptedly ruled postwar Japan since its 1955 foundation, experts say.
“This could be a turning point” for the LDP over its divisive policies on gender equality, same-sex marriages and other issues that Abe-backed ultra-conservatives with paternalistic family values had resisted, said Fukuda.
Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance is unlikely to change because fundamental changes had been already been made by Abe. His ultra-nationalist views and realistic policy measures made him a divisive figure to many, including in the Koreas and China.
Abe stepped down two years ago blaming a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leave many of his goals unfinished, including the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia, and a revision to Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that many conservatives consider a humiliation because of poor public support.
Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military through security alliance with the United States and bigger role in international affairs.
He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52. But his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health, prompting six years of annual leadership change.
He returned to office in 2012, vowing to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power.


Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end
Updated 02 October 2022

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end
  • “It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Dendias said

ATHENS: Greece wants to have a constructive dialogue with Turkey based on international law but its Aegean neighbor must halt its unprecedented escalation of provocations, the Greek foreign minister said on Sunday.
The two countries — North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but historic foes — have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including where their continental shelves start and end, overflights in the Aegean Sea and divided Cyprus.
“It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Nikos Dendias told Proto Thema newspaper in an interview.
Last month, the European Union voiced concern over statements by Turkish President Tayip Erdogan accusing Greece, an EU member, of occupying demilitarised islands in the Aegean and saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came.
“The one responsible for a de-escalation is the one causing the escalation, which is Turkey,” Dendias said.
He blamed Ankara for increased provocations with a rhetoric of false and legally baseless claims, “even personal insults.”
Turkey has sharply increased its overflights and violations of Greek airspace, Dendias told the paper, adding that its behavior seems to be serving a “revisionist narrative” that it promotes consistently.
He said Turkish claims that Greece cannot be an equal interlocutor diplomatically, politically and militarily violates the basic rule of foreign relations — the principle of euality among nations.
“It is an insulting approach that ranks various countries as more or less equal,” Dendias said.


UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance
Updated 02 October 2022

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance
  • Blended finance structures will help mobilize climate capital toward emerging markets, developing economies: Alliance

GENEVA: The UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance will hold a high-level forum on the potential of blended finance aims, the Emirates News Agency reported.

It follows the publication Call on Policymakers to facilitate the scaling of blended finance structures to fund climate solutions in order to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and UN sustainable development goals.

The agenda will include a keynote address by UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action Selwin Hart.

The alliance, signed by UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney and UN High-Level Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping, noted that blended finance structures would help to mobilize climate capital toward emerging markets and developing economies.

Given their experience and expertise, particularly in EMDEs, as well as their higher risk tolerance and official development mandates, multilateral development banks and development finance institutions have significant potential to mobilize private capital through blended finance.

By collaborating with Convergence (the global network for blended finance) and establishing dialogue with members of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, the alliance hopes to contribute to the implementation of the highlighted solutions.

Massive capital mobilization into EMDEs is possible only if donors, development banks, and private-sector financiers work together to effect systemic change in how private capital is deployed in climate and SDGs finance.


Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops

Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops
Updated 02 October 2022

Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops

Ukraine says key eastern town of Lyman ‘cleared’ of Russian troops
  • The recapture of Lyman marks the first Ukrainian military victory in territory that the Kremlin has claimed as its own
  • President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to retake more areas in the country’s eastern Donbas region within the week

MYKOLAIVKA, Ukraine: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that Lyman, a key town located in one of the four Ukrainian regions that Russia annexed, was “cleared” of Moscow’s troops.
The latest development — a feature of Ukraine’s weeks-long counteroffensive against Moscow’s invasion — comes as Russia pushed forward with finalizing the annexation of captured Ukrainian territories despite condemnation from Kyiv and the West.
The recapture of Lyman — which Moscow’s forces pummelled for weeks to control this spring — marks the first Ukrainian military victory in territory that the Kremlin has claimed as its own and has vowed to defend by all possible means.
“As of 12:30 p.m. (0930 GMT) Lyman is completely cleared. Thank you to our military!” Zelensky said in a video posted on social media.
Ukraine’s army said it had entered Lyman on Saturday, prompting Moscow to announce the “withdrawal” of its troops from the town toward “more favorable lines.”
“Now I am optimistic and very motivated. I see the activity on the front line, and how foreign weapons... help us take our lands back,” a 33-year-old Ukrainian solider, who uses the nom de guerre “Smoke,” told AFP after returning from near Lyman.
In a video address late on Saturday, Zelensky pledged to retake more areas in the country’s eastern Donbas region within the week.
With Russian losses mounting, experts have warned that President Vladimir Putin could turn to nuclear weapons to defend territory — an option floated by a Putin ally.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Saturday that Russia should consider using “low-yield nuclear weapons” after Moscow’s troops were forced out of Lyman.
Putin staged a grand Kremlin ceremony on Friday to celebrate the annexation of the four Ukrainian territories: Donetsk, Kherson, Lugansk and Zaporizhzhia, following referendums denounced as void by Kyiv and its allies.
Despite condemnation from the West, Russia’s Constitutional Court on Sunday recognized as lawful the annexation accords signed by Putin with the Moscow-backed leaders of the four Ukrainian territories.
The annexation treaties will be considered by Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Monday, according to Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.
The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, also annexed by Moscow, in 2014.
Together the five regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine.
Kyiv has also called for the immediate release of the chief of the Moscow-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, condemning his “illegal detention” by the Russians.
Ihor Murashov was leaving the plant Friday when he was detained and “driven in an unknown direction” while blindfolded, Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom has said.
In a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), its chief Rafael Grossi said Murashov’s detention was cause for “grave concern.”
Grossi is expected to travel to Kyiv and Moscow “next week,” the UN agency added.
Zaporizhzhia — Europe’s largest nuclear energy facility — has been at the center of tensions, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of strikes on and near the plant, raising fears of an atomic disaster.
Following the annexations, Washington announced “severe” new sanctions against Russian officials and the defense industry, and said G7 allies support imposing “costs” on any nation backing annexation.
Zelensky urged the US-led military alliance NATO to grant his country fast-track membership.
He also vowed never to hold talks with Russia as long as Putin was in power.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg slammed the annexation as “illegal and illegitimate” but remained non-committal after Ukraine said it was applying to join the Western alliance.
Turkey said Saturday Russia’s annexation was a “grave violation of the established principles of international law.”
Despite Putin’s warnings prior to the annexation that he could use nuclear weapons to defend the captured territories, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would “continue liberating our land and our people.”


Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan
Updated 02 October 2022

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan
  • Women, children suffer malnutrition, frostbite, violence in northeastern Syrian camps

LONDON: The Australian government is set to rescue dozens of Australian women and children detained in Syrian prison camps, the Guardian reported.

More than 20 Australian women and at least 40 children are stuck in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps in northeastern Syria. The camps, being managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces, hold the wives, widows, and children of Daesh fighters defeated by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.

Many of their husbands have been killed by the coalition and its partners in the region, and some have been jailed. Canberra is now set to recover more than 20 of those still in the region. The dozens set to be repatriated will be mostly children, but officials told the Guardian that the rescue operation would take several months.

Most of the children are aged under six and several were born in the camps to widowed wives of the fighters.

The next mission will be the first time that the Australian government has attempted to repatriate citizens from the camps since 2019, when it launched a secret rescue operation to recover eight orphans, including a pregnant teenager.

The government has consistently claimed that security risks prevented any fresh attempts, but government sources told the Guardian that a rescue mission was now on the way.

A spokesperson for Clare O’Neil, Australia’s home affairs minister, told Guardian Australia on Sunday: “The Australian government’s overriding priority is the protection of Australians and Australia’s national interest, informed by national security advice. Given the sensitive nature of the matters involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

Forty-four children and several Australian widows are held in Al-Roj camp, which is closer to the Iraqi border than the more dangerous Al-Hol camp, where shootings have taken place and illness is rife. More than 100 murders were reported in Al-Hol camp in the 18 months leading up to June.

The SDF, a predominantly Kurdish force, last month arrested more than 300 Daesh fighters inside the camp. Its troops seized weapons and freed at least six women who were living as slaves, chained under the control of their captors. One of the women had been living in captivity since 2014, when she was just nine years old.

The Australian push to repatriate citizens comes after several other Western nations adopted similar plans.

The Guardian said that Germany had repatriated 91 citizens, France, 86, and the US, 26. Kazakhstan had recovered 700 of its citizens, with Russia and Kosovo both repatriating more than 200 each.

The US has urged Canberra to conduct repatriations amid reports of troubling conditions that the children have endured. In July, Sydney-born teenager Yusuf Zahab died of unknown causes. He had tuberculosis and was begging for support in January amid Daesh attacks on a prison. He was aged 11 when taken to Syria against his will by his family, of which a dozen joined Daesh.

Reports of malnutrition and frostbite suffered by Australian children were heard in 2020, and 2021.

UN experts said plans to repatriate women and children were “entirely feasible.”

In a joint statement, they said: “The government of Australia has the capacity to do so. Many other governments are currently doing it. Australia has an advanced child welfare, education, criminal justice, and health system which is eminently capable of addressing the needs of these children and their mothers.

“Failure to repatriate is an abdication of Australia’s treaty obligations and their deeper moral obligations to protect Australia’s most vulnerable children.”

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the Guardian that “appallingly harsh conditions” in Al-Hol were worsening.

“The children here have less food, clean water, health care, and education than international standards call for. They are endlessly exposed to dangers, and their rights are ignored. A lack of attention is not an excuse to forget the women and children here.

“We welcome the efforts that have been made to repatriate women and children back to their home countries. But this camp remains the shame of the international community,” he said.


Swiss police violently disperse anti-Iran protest at embassy

Swiss police violently disperse anti-Iran protest at embassy
Updated 02 October 2022

Swiss police violently disperse anti-Iran protest at embassy

Swiss police violently disperse anti-Iran protest at embassy
  • Two men climbed over the embassy’s fence, in Bern, and pulled down the Iranian flag
  • Police said they used rubber bullets after several other protesters tried to follow the two men

BERLIN: Swiss police used rubber bullets to disperse protesters in front of the Iranian Embassy in Bern after two men climbed over the embassy’s fence and pulled down the Iranian flag from a flagpole in the yard.
Police said late Saturday that nobody was injured and that the “large crowd” of protesters was dispersed after the use of rubber bullets. The two protesters who entered the embassy’s grounds were detained, according to police in the Swiss capital.
Police said they used rubber bullets after several other protesters at the unauthorized demonstration tried following the two men who had first entered the embassy’s yard and also attempted to access the premises.
It wasn’t immediately clear if more protesters were detained.
Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets over the last two weeks in protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by the morality police in the capital, Tehran, for allegedly wearing her mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely.
Outside of Iran, thousands of protesters have also staged demonstrations in European countries and elsewhere over the death of Amini. They’ve also expressed anger over the treatment of women and wider repression in the Islamic Republic.