Japan PM safe after ‘smoke bomb’ at speech

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Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was evacuated unharmed from the scene of a campaign speech Saturday after a blast sounded and white smoke filled the air, local media reported.

The incident in Wakayama came less than a year after the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, which traumatized the country and forced a security shake-up for public officials.

Kishida was in the western city to deliver remarks in support of a ruling party candidate and had just finished sampling fish at a port when a disturbance rippled through the crowd gathered to hear him speak.

Footage from national broadcaster NHK showed the prime minister turning to look backwards as a person was detained by security and people moved away, some shrieking.

Seconds later, a blast was heard and white smoke filled the air.NHK said a man had been arrested at the scene on suspicion of obstruction of business.

There was no immediate official confirmation of the incident, with local police declining to comment.

People at the scene described moments of panic.“I ran frantically, and then, 10 or so seconds later, there was a loud sound and my kid started crying. I was stunned, my heart is still beating fast,” one woman told NHK.

A man at the scene told the broadcaster that “when we all stopped in front of the podium, someone started saying ‘culprit!’ or something, or ‘an explosive was thrown,’ so everyone started dispersing fast.”

“And then, about 10 seconds after the culprit was captured, there was a blast,” he said.

Reports said Kishida was unharmed and could still appear at campaign events scheduled for later in the day.

“That something like this happened in the middle of an election campaign that constitutes the foundation of democracy is regrettable. It’s an unforgivable atrocity,” Hiroshi Moriyama, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s election strategy chairman, told NHK.

Security at local campaign events in Japan can be relatively relaxed, in a country with little violent crime and strict gun laws.

But the country bolstered security around politicians after the assassination of Abe, who was shot and killed while speaking at a campaign event in July 2022.

His alleged assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, reportedly targeted him over his links to the Unification Church, and the incident sparked revelations about the connection between the sect and political figures in Japan.

Yamagami was reportedly angry at the sect over large donations his mother made to the group that left the family bankrupt.The head of Japan’s National Police Agency resigned in the wake of Abe’s assassination after an investigation confirmed “shortcomings” in the security for the former leader.

The investigation slammed a system under which local police were given responsibility for the security of visiting senior officials.It concluded that areas south of Abe’s podium were not properly guarded, leaving an open route for the shooter to approach.

With proper security, “it is deemed highly probable that this incident could have been prevented,” the report concluded.

The head of Nara’s local police also offered his tearful resignation after Abe’s death.The incident comes as Group of Seven climate and energy ministers meet in the northern city of Sapporo, and a day before G7 foreign ministers arrive in Karuizawa in Nagano for talks.Japan will host the G7 leaders’ summit next month in Hiroshima.

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