Mayor’s assassination stuns Japan
April 18, 2007 – 9:58PM
Stunned Japanese laid flowers and called for even tighter controls on guns after the mayor of Nagasaki was shot dead by a member of the nation’s largest underworld gang.
The rare political killing in one of the world’s safest countries led authorities to tighten security around political leaders ahead of local polls this Sunday, in which the mayor was campaigning for re-election.
“This criminal act during the election campaign is a challenge to democracy. It cannot be forgiven no matter what,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo.
Sixty-one-year-old Iccho Ito died early Wednesday due to massive blood loss hours after being shot outside his campaign offices in Nagasaki.
“This is not an act by a human being. If he had grievances, he should have said them to the mayor instead of shooting him,” said Yoshinori Hirano, 57, a gas company worker, as mourners left flowers at the shooting site.
“To see an important person get killed violently is very shocking because Nagasaki is the city of peace,” he said as he started to weep.
Police said the assailant belonged to the Japanese mafia, or “yakuza,” who hold wide interests in seedy nightlife and are linked to most of Japan’s gun-related violence.
Ito, a political independent, was an outspoken pacifist born a month after the atomic bomb that devastated Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 and helped bring World War II to an end.
Chief government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki said authorities would look into how criminal groups were able to skirt Japan’s tough gun controls.
“The government will make more efforts to crack down on gun trafficking at ports through cooperation with police, customs houses and coast guards, as well as other countries,” Shiozaki said.
Police said they were investigating how the suspect, 59-year-old Tetsuya Shiroo, obtained the lethal weapon, a 0.38-caliber US-made Smith and Wesson “Bodyguard” revolver.
Amid the widespread condemnation of the attack, gaffe-prone Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma came under fire for saying the shooting would boost the chances of the opposition.
Ito’s son-in-law, a 40-year-old Tokyo-based newspaper reporter who has never held elected office, said he would run in Sunday’s election.
“As a journalist, I have always distanced myself from my father, Iccho Ito,” Makoto Yokoo said. “This is something I never thought about before, but someone has to carry on the job that Iccho Ito wanted to do.”
Police said the assailant was an executive member of a local group affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest criminal syndicate with some 40,000 members nationwide.
Motohisa Mizuta, head of the local group, went in person to a police station with a letter announcing the affiliate, Suishinkei, was disbanding, a senior police officer said.
“Our organisation has caused trouble to society,” the officer quoted the letter as saying.
But police said they were still questioning Shiroo to learn his motives.
Shiroo had grievances with the city after his vehicle was damaged at a construction site four years ago, police said.
But a city spokesman said an official who dealt with Shiroo doubted the accident was his real motivation. News reports said the dispute may be linked to a public works contract.
Ito’s killing was the second assault on a mayor in the deeply pacifist city.
In January 1990, a right-wing extremist shot and wounded then mayor Hitoshi Motoshima for saying late emperor Hirohito bore responsibility for World War II.
Tadatoshi Akiba, the mayor of Hiroshima, the only other city to suffer nuclear attack, said he felt “deep sorrow and strong anger” over the death.
“I deeply regret that his strong wish for the abolition of nuclear weapons was stalled by the violence of the bullet.”
Â© 2007 AFP