Tue, May 27, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Japan court hands death sentence to murderer of mayor

AP , TOKYO

A court in Japan convicted an alleged gangster and sentenced him to death yesterday for the fatal shooting of a popular mayor in a crime that stunned a nation that takes pride in its rigid gun-control laws.

The defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death yesterday in Nagasaki District Court, court spokesman Hiroyuki Mano said. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, while the defense had argued that was too harsh.

Mayor Iccho Ito, 61, was shot twice in the back at close range outside a train station in April last year while campaigning for re-election for his fourth term.

The crime was lambasted as an act of violence that aimed to stifle democracy.

It also raised fears about guns on the streets as well as about organized crime in a nation that has long boasted a relatively crime-free record.

Tetsuya Shiroo, 60, who police say is a senior member of Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime syndicate, was arrested on the scene.

CAR PROBLEMS

He told police he was angry at the city for refusing to compensate him after his car was damaged at a public works construction site.

The assassination was all the more tragic as the second attack in 20 years against the mayor of the southwestern city whose politicians historically have been outspoken pacifists.

In 1990, then-mayor Hitoshi Motoshima was shot and seriously wounded after saying that Japan’s emperor bore some responsibility for World War II, enraging rightist-leaning nationalists. A right-wing terrorist was arrested in that attack.

GANGS

Known as yakuza, gangsters are often involved in construction businesses, corporate extortion, gambling, the sex trade and drug trafficking.

According to the latest police report, gang members in Japan number about 84,200. They are behind two-thirds of Japan’s reported shootings, but shootings are still rare compared to the US and other nations at only 65 a year.

Ito had been born in Nagasaki on Aug. 23, 1945, just two weeks after the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki toward the end of World War II. The other city to suffer atomic bombing was nearby Hiroshima.

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