WAKAJAMA, Japan (AP) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was evacuated unharmed Saturday after someone threw an explosive device in his direction while campaigning in a fishing port in western Japan, officials said. Police wrestled the suspect to the ground as screaming bystanders tried to flee and smoke filled the air.
Although no one was injured and Kishida resumed campaigning on Saturday, the chaotic scene was reminiscent of the assassination nine months ago of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was also on a campaign tour and continues to reverberate through Japanese politics. Kishida was visiting the port of Saikazaki in Wakayama Prefecture to support his ruling party’s candidate in a local election, and the explosion occurred just before he was to begin his speech.
A young man believed to be the suspect was arrested at the scene on Saturday after allegedly throwing a “suspicious object”, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. Matsuno declined to comment on the suspect’s motive or background, saying police were still investigating.
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 spins around, looking alarmed. The camera quickly pans to the crowd just as several people, including uniformed and civilian police officers, approach a young man wearing a white surgical mask and holding what appears to be another device, a long silver tube.
As they descend on the man, working to remove the pipe from his hands, a large explosion is heard near where Kishida was standing. The crowd disperses in panic as the police roughly drag the man away.
It was not immediately clear what the explosive device was or how many the suspect had, but some reports said it was a smoke or pipe bomb, possibly with a delayed fuse.
No one was injured in the incident, which took place on the eve of a major international forum in Japan. Kishida was not injured and continued his campaign speeches later Saturday, Matsuno said.
Kishida did not mention the explosion and returned to Tokyo in the evening after campaigning in Chiba for another candidate.
“Elections are the core of democracy and we should never tolerate threats or obstruction with violence,” Matsuno said.
He said he had ordered the national police to make maximum efforts to protect dignitaries visiting Japan in the run-up to the Group of Seven summit in May.
Abe’s murder, who shocked a nation that prides itself on public safety and extremely strict gun control, came as he delivered a campaign speech in the western city of Nara. Amid a national outcry, police tightened security measures after a subsequent investigation revealed gaps in Abe’s security.
Security has also been beefed up in Japan as senior diplomats from some of the world’s most powerful democracies arrive for Sunday’s Meetings of the G-7 foreign ministers. Kishida will host the G-7 leaders’ summit in his hometown of Hiroshima from May 19 to 21.
One witness told NHK television on Saturday that she was standing in the crowd when she saw something flying from behind. After a sudden noise, she ran away with her children. Another witness said that people were screaming and that he saw someone being taken into custody just before the explosion.
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, has been charged with murder and several other crimes, including violating gun control laws.
He told investigators he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most powerful and divisive politicians, because of the former prime minister’s apparent ties to a religious group he hated. In statements and social media posts attributed to him, Yamagami said he developed anger because his mother made huge donations 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 guidelines for political leaders and other prominent people.
Kishida’s government had hoped to focus world attention this weekend on the small town of Karuizawa, where top diplomats will gather on Sunday for a meeting of the so-called Group of Seven foreign ministers.
The foreign ministers of 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 belligerent rise and North Korea’s provocative series of weapons tests.
Klug reported from Karuizawa, Japan.