Thu, Apr 19, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Japan mourns slain Nagasaki mayor

AFP , NAGASAKI, JAPAN

Stunned Japanese laid flowers and called for a crackdown on crime after the mayor of Nagasaki was gunned down by a member of Japan's largest underworld gang.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe branded the slaying as a challenge to democracy, and authorities pledged to tighten security around political leaders ahead of local polls on Sunday in which the mayor was campaigning for re-election.

The mayor, 61-year-old Iccho Ito, died early yesterday from massive blood loss, hours after being shot outside his campaign offices in Nagasaki, a city forever linked to the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bomb that devastated it.

Police immediately arrested a gunman rumored to be connected to Japan's largest underworld syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Ito, a political independent, was an outspoken pacifist born a month after the detonation of the atomic bomb which helped bring World War II to an end.

"This criminal act during the election campaign is a challenge to democracy. It cannot be forgiven no matter what," Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

Chief government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki said authorities would look into how criminal groups were able to obtain guns despite Japan's strict 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.

Amid the widespread condemnation of the attack, gaffe-prone Japanese Defense 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 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, 59-year-old Tetsuya Shiroo, who was taken into custody immediately after the incident, was an executive member of a local group affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate.

Shiroo had grievances with the city after his vehicle fell into a hole and was damaged at a construction site four years ago, police said.

But officials said they were questioning Shiroo to see if there were other motives too.

"An official who dealt with Shiroo's complaint at the time said it was unlikely that the accident was the real motive for his act," a city spokesman said.

TV Asahi said Shiroo demanded up to ?2.7 million (US$22,500) over the traffic accident but had been turned down.

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