WAKAYAMA, Japan (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was evacuated unharmed Saturday after someone threw an explosive device in his direction while he was campaigning at a fishing port in western Japan, officials said. Police wrestled a suspect to the ground as bystanders screamed for him to get away and smoke filled the air.
A policeman was slightly injured and Kishida continued to campaign on Saturday, but the chaotic scene was reminiscent of the assassination nine months ago of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also came on a campaign tour and continues to reverberate through Japanese politics. Kishida was visiting the Saikazaki port in Wakayama prefecture to support his ruling party’s candidate in a local election, and the explosion happened before he was about to begin his speech.
A young man believed to be the suspect was arrested Saturday at the scene after he allegedly threw the “suspicious object,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. Matsuno declined to comment on the suspect’s motive and background, saying the police investigation is still ongoing.
TV footage shows Kishida standing with his back to the crowd. His security detail suddenly points to the ground near him, and the prime minister turns, looking alarmed. The camera quickly pans to the crowd as several people, including uniformed and plainclothes police, converge on a young man wearing a white surgical mask and holding what appears to be another device, a long silver tube .
As they fell on top of the man, trying to pry the pipe from his hands, a huge explosion was heard near where Kishida was standing. The crowd scattered in panic as the police almost dragged the man away.
It was not immediately clear what the explosive was or how many the suspect had, but some reports said it was a smoke or pipe bomb, possibly with a delayed fuse.
No injuries were reported in the incident, which came on the eve of a major international forum in Japan. Kishida was unharmed and resumed his campaign speeches on Saturday, Matsuno said. A policeman was slightly injured.
The investigation continued at the scene until midnight. According to Japanese media reports, the suspect refused to talk to police until his lawyer arrived.
Kishida did not mention the explosion and returned to the Tokyo region later that night after campaigning in Chiba for another candidate.
“Elections are the core of democracy, and we must not tolerate threats or obstruction of violence,” Matsuno said.
He said he instructed the national police to ensure their full efforts for the protection of dignitaries visiting Japan in the period leading up to the Group of Seven summit in May.
Abe’s murder, shocking a country that prides itself on public safety and strict gun control, as he delivered a campaign speech in the western city of Nara. Amid a national outcry, police tightened their protection measures following a subsequent investigation that found loopholes in Abe’s security.
Security was also beefed up in Japan as senior diplomats from some of the world’s most powerful democracies arrived for G-7 foreign minister meetings on Sunday.. Kishida will host the May 19-21 G-7 leaders’ summit in his hometown of Hiroshima.
A witness on Saturday told NHK television that he was standing in the crowd when he saw something flying from behind. After the sudden loud noise, she ran away with her children. Another witness said people were shouting and he saw someone being arrested before the explosion happened.
Saturday’s attack comes ahead of local elections across the country, including several by-elections for vacant parliamentary seats, with voting scheduled for April 23.
In Abe’s assassination, the former prime minister was shot with a homemade gun during a campaign speech. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, was charged with murder and several other crimes, including violating the gun control law.
He told investigators he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most influential and destructive politicians, because of the former prime minister’s apparent ties to a religious group he hated. In statements and in social media postings attributed to him, Yamagami said he harbored a grudge because his mother made a huge donation to the Unification Church that bankrupted his family and ruined his life.
Abe’s assassination led to the resignation of top local and national police chiefs and a tightening of security rules for political leaders and other prominent figures.
Kishida’s government hopes to focus world attention this weekend on the hot spring resort town of Karuizawa, where senior diplomats will gather on Sunday for the so-called Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting.
Foreign ministers from Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and the European Union are expected to focus on concerns over Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s increasingly defiant rise and the challenges of weapons of North Korea. .
Klug reported from Karuizawa, Japan.