Polls open in Japan as nation reels from Shinzo Abe assassination

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July 10 (UPI) — Elections for the Upper House in the Japanese parliament got underway Sunday as the nations was still reeling two days after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

An exit poll conducted by the Kyodo news agency showed the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic and Komeito parties is on course to win more than half of the seats in the House of Councilors, the upper house of the National Diet of Japan, in the aftermath of Abe’s slaying.

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If borne out, the result would give Prime Minister Fumio Kishida a comfortable victory and strengthen his grip on power after all of Japan’s parties had vowed not to yield to political violence.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister who retired from the office almost two years ago after a bout with health problems, was shot dead Friday at a train station in western Japan while making a campaign speech for a parliamentary candidate.

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old veteran of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, took advantage of flaws in Abe’s security detail in carrying out the slaying, the Nara prefectural police chief admitted Saturday.

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Police sources told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and Kyodo that Yamagami held a grudge against Abe because he associated him with a religious group whom he blamed for his family’s financial problems.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken‘s trip to Asia was altered to include a visit Japan on Sunday, State Department officials said.

Following his attendance at a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, and a meeting with Thai officials in Bangkok, Blinken was set to travel to Tokyo to “offer condolences to the Japanese people on the death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and to meet with senior Japanese officials.”

Kishida had the solid backing of Abe, an LDP member whose clout remained formidable after nearly eight years in office.

A majority result for the LDP-Komeito coalition would also boost an effort to amend Japan’s constitution for the first time since it was established in 1947.

Toshimitsu Motegi, the LDP’s secretary general, said last month he would seek to initiate the amendment process shortly after the House of Councilors election should the ruling bloc win.

The post-war constitution forbids the country from maintaining “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential,” but Abe had sought revisions under which Japan’s Self-Defense Forces would be explicitly allowed in its text.

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If approved by the Diet, the proposed amendment would be put before voters in a national referendum.