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Man sets himself on fire in apparent protest of Abe funeral

TOKYO — A man set himself on fire near the Japanese prime minister’s office in Tokyo early Wednesday in apparent protest against the state funeral planned next week for former leader Shinzo Abe, officials and media reports said.

The man, believed to be in his 70s, sustained burns on large parts of his body but was conscious and told police that he set himself on fire after pouring oil over him, Kyodo News agency reported. The man was taken to a hospital.

A note apparently written by the man was found with him that said, “Personally, I am absolutely against” Abe’s funeral, Kyodo said.

A Tokyo Fire Department official confirmed a man set himself afire on the street in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki government district but declined to give further details, including the man’s identity, motive or condition, citing the sensitivity of what was a police matter.

Tokyo police refused to comment, including on a report that a police officer was caught in the fire.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting of world leaders. He gave a speech Tuesday expressing disappointment over the Security Council’s failure to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine because of Russia’s permanent veto and called for reforms that would allow the U.N. to better defend global peace and order.

The planned state funeral for Abe has become increasingly unpopular among Japanese as more details emerge about the ruling party’s and Abe’s links to the Unification Church, which built close ties with Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers over their shared interests in conservative causes.

The suspect in Abe’s assassination reportedly believed his mother’s donations to the church ruined his family. The LDP has said nearly half its lawmakers have ties to the church.

A state funeral is a rare event in Japan, but Kishida has said Abe deserves the honor as Japan’s longest-serving post-World War II leader and for his diplomatic and economic achievements.

Critics have said it was decided undemocratically and is an inappropriate and costly use of taxpayers’ money. They say Kishida aimed to please Abe’s party faction and buttress his own power.

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The church linked to Abe’s killing, Japan’s political turmoil | Politics News

Shinzo Abe was not his assassin’s preferred target.

Investigators say Tetsuya Yamagami, who fatally shot Japan’s longest-serving prime minister on July 8, had initially wanted to kill the leader of the Unification Church — a South-Korean religious sect that the 41-year-old blames for his family’s financial ruin. But the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way.

Hak Ja Han Moon, who has led the church since the 2012 death of its founder — her husband Sun Myung Moon — had stopped coming to Japan following pandemic-related border closures.

In a letter Yamagami sent to a blogger a day before shooting Abe with a handmade gun, he wrote that it was “impossible” to kill Hak Ja Han Moon. And although Abe was “not my original enemy”, the 67-year-old politician was “one of the most influential sympathisers” of the Unification Church, he wrote. “I can no longer afford to think about the political implications and consequences that Abe’s death will bring,” he added.

The brazen killing in the city of Nara, as Abe was delivering a campaign speech, shocked Japan, a nation where political violence and gun crimes are extremely rare. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida quickly declared that he would hold a state funeral for Abe while the Japanese public handed his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a sweeping victory in an upper house election held just days after the assassination.

But the grief quickly gave way to anger amid growing media scrutiny of the church’s extensive ties with Abe and the LDP, and alleged abuses, including claims of forced donations. Kishida has, meanwhile, seen his approval ratings plunge from 63 percent at the time of Abe’s assassination to about 29 percent in mid-September – a level analysts say makes it difficult for a prime minister to have enough support to carry out his agenda.

“The Unification Church is not so much regarded as a religious organisation, but rather as a predatory cult in Japan,” said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at the Sophia University in Tokyo.

Church or cult?

Officially known as Family Federation for World Peace and Reunification and disparagingly called “the Moonies”, Sun Myung Moon founded the Unification Church in South Korea in 1954. The self-proclaimed messiah was a staunch anti-Communist who advocated conservative family-oriented beliefs. Famously, he oversaw mass weddings at which he had matched thousands of couples, sometimes by pairing photographs of people who had never met before.

Experts say the church’s right-wing beliefs helped it expand overseas during the Cold War.

Moon became good friends with Nobusuke Kishi, who served as Japan’s prime minister from 1957 to 1960 and was Abe’s grandfather. It was Kishi who helped found the church’s political arm, the International Federation for Victory Over Communism in Japan in 1968, according to Japanese media. After gaining a foothold in Japan, the church treated its followers there like an “economic army”, a former senior member told the Reuters news agency, raising money by collecting donations and selling “spiritual goods” such as expensive ginseng tea or miniature stone pagodas.

In the case of Yamagami, Abe’s killer, relatives say his mother, a devout follower, donated some 100 million yen ($692,000) to the church, a large part of which came from a life insurance payment from his father’s death by suicide. The donations bankrupted the family and Yamagami, described by his uncle as “extremely smart” and “hardworking”, had to abandon plans to go to college.

The Unification Church is well known for its mass weddings, with some couples matched simply by photo  [File: Kim Hong-Ji/ Reuters]
Moon Sun Myung, the founder of the Unification Church, drinks a toast with his family members during his 91st birthday party
Moon Sun Myung, the founder of the Unification Church, drinks a toast with his family members during his 91st birthday party in 2011 [File: Jo Yong-Hak/ Reuters]

A group of lawyers representing victims of the church’s “spiritual sales” in Japan said the religious group has been linked to some 30,000 complaints involving losses of 123.7 billion yen ($856m) since 1987 and that the church has used the funds raised in Japan to build and seed a multi-billion dollar business empire spanning the globe.

According to Britain’s Financial Times, Moon founded a conglomerate called Tongil Group in South Korea in 1963, and its affiliates now operate ski and golf resorts, a defence company, a chemicals group, a car parts business and a newspaper. In the United States, the church’s business interests include the conservative Washington Times newspaper, the New Yorker Hotel in New York, the True World Foods seafood wholesaler and a vast property portfolio, it said.

Despite the complaints over its fundraising practices in Japan, the church continued to find favour among LDP politicians, with whom it shared conservative values, including opposition to LGBTQ rights.

Investigators say it was a video message that Abe had sent last year to an event hosted by a Unification Church-affiliated group, the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), and attended by Hak Ja Han Moon that prompted his killer to consider switching his targets. In the message to the UPF, Abe had praised Hak Ja Han Moon and thanked the group for its “focus and emphasis on family values”.

Japanese media, meanwhile, have alleged that the church, which now has about 100,000 active followers in Japan, has directed its members to help elect LDP candidates. A former follower told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that she had volunteered in campaigns to help elect Abe ally Koichi Haguida in order to “save” Japan. Five former followers also told Reuters that church officials had instructed them to vote for LDP candidates who opposed gay rights.

“The nexus of right-wing politicians and a right-wing Church that both oppose gender rights, LGBTQ rights and want to turn back the hands of history on social developments involving the family have sparked anger,” said Jeffrey Kingston, professor of history and Asian studies at Temple University in Japan. “Their conservative dogma does not enjoy public support.”

‘No shocking links’

In a bid to address the growing outcry, Kishida ordered LDP legislators to sever ties with the church and announced a new programme to help those experiencing trouble with the group. This includes offering legal aid for those who are seeking the return of their donations. The LDP also carried out an internal survey that found nearly half of its 379 national legislators had ties to the church.

It said some 96 of the legislators reported attending events organised by the church or its affiliates while 29 said they had accepted donations from the group. A further 17 said they had received election support from church followers who volunteered in their campaigns.

Kingston said a thorough investigation of the allegations of the church’s activities in Japan was necessary.

“Its extensive and longstanding political role has been kept obscure until the assassination,” he said. “It is in the public interest to thoroughly vet the organisation and its role in politics and whether it is in compliance with regulations covering religious organisations.”

The church has denied supporting any particular political party and said it does not give political guidance to its members. It did say, however, that its political arm, the UPF, has courted Japanese legislators and most of them were from the LDP because of shared values.

A spokesman for UPF, Kajikuri Masayoshi, also told NHK he did not understand the furore over ties between the two groups. “Our relationship is just normal. In most cases, they sent congratulatory telegrams or did interviews with our magazines. I think there were no legal or ethical problems,” he said in late August.

With Japan preparing to hold Abe’s funeral on Tuesday, some analysts said they expect the outcry to blow over.

Masaki Nakamasa, professor of philosophy at Kanazawa University, said he believed the links between the Unification Church and the LDP were “not so strong”.

Attending church meetings in order to gain election volunteers does not make the legislators believers, said Nakamasa, who was also formerly a member of the church.

“It is really hard to turn conservative Japanese politicians into devoted Moonies,” he said, adding: “After the memorial service for Abe, the media and the net opinion will lose interest, because there are no real shocking links between Abe and the Unification Church.”

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Apple says it will make some of its iPhone 14 in India | Business and Economy News

Apple has asked manufacturers to shift production from China amid geopolitical tensions and pandemic restrictions.

Apple Inc will make some of its iPhone 14s in India, the company has said, as manufacturers shift production from China amid geopolitical tensions and pandemic restrictions that have disrupted supply chains for many industries.

“The new iPhone 14 lineup introduces groundbreaking new technologies and important safety capabilities. We’re excited to be manufacturing iPhone 14 in India,” Apple said in a statement on Monday.

Apple unveiled its latest lineup of iPhones earlier this month. They will have improved cameras, faster processors and longer-lasting batteries at the same prices as last year’s models.

India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market after China, but Apple iPhone sales have struggled to capture a large share of the market against cheaper smartphones from a range of Chinese brands.

Bloomberg News had reported last month the company was planning to manufacture some of its iPhone 14 in India.

The announcement from the Cupertino, California-based company dovetails with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for local manufacturing, which has been a key goal for his government since he took office in 2014.

The tech company first began manufacturing its iPhone SE in 2017 and has since continued to assemble a number of iPhone models there. Apple opened its online store for India two years ago, but the pandemic has delayed plans for a flagship store in India, according to local media reports.

The latest model will be shipped out by Foxconn, a major iPhone assembler whose facilities are on the outskirts of Chennai, a city in southern India.

Diversify supply chain

Apple is likely to shift about 5 percent of its iPhone 14 production to India from later this year, raising it to 25 percent by 2025, according to a JP Morgan report quoted by the Press Trust of India news agency.

The analysts expect nearly a quarter of all Apple products will be manufactured outside China by 2025, compared with about 5 percent now. Supply chain risks like the stringent COVID-19 lockdowns seen in China are likely the trigger for such relocation efforts that will continue over the next two or three years, the report said.

“Apple has been trying to diversify its supply chain for a while, but these efforts have grown in the last two years over trade sanctions between the US and China,” said Sanyam Chaurasia, an analyst at Canalys.

Last year, the tech giant manufactured about 7 million iPhones in India. This news is likely to significantly increase India-made Apple smartphones, he added.

He said the plan to make more iPhones in India may also lead Apple to drop its prices for the Indian market, making it more competitive. “You can adopt a more aggressive pricing strategy if you manufacture locally,” Chaurasia said.

Most of Apple Inc’s smartphones and tablets are assembled by contractors with factories in China, but the company started asking them in 2020 to look at the possibility of moving some production to Southeast Asia or other places after repeated shutdowns to fight COVID-19 disrupted its global flow of products.

Apple has not released details, but news reports say the company planned to set up assembly of tablet computers and wireless earphones in Vietnam.

Other companies are keeping or expanding manufacturing in China to serve the domestic market while shifting export-oriented work to other countries due to rising wages and other costs, as well as the difficulty for foreign executives to visit China due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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Kremlin says no decision to seal Russia’s borders amid chaos | Russia-Ukraine war News

The Kremlin says no decision has been taken on whether to seal Russia’s borders to stop an exodus of military-aged men fleeing the country after days of chaotic scenes during partial mobilisation for its war in Ukraine.

Asked on Monday about the prospect of the border being shut, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “I don’t know anything about this. At the moment, no decisions have been taken on this.”

Reports that Russia might close the frontier have contributed to turmoil since President Vladimir Putin gave the order last week to call up hundreds of thousands of reservists in the biggest escalation yet of the seven-month Ukraine war.

Flights out of Russia have sold out and cars have piled up at border checkpoints, with reports of a 48-hour queue at the sole road border to Georgia, the rare pro-Western neighbour that allows Russian citizens to enter without a visa.

“Panic. All the people I know are in panic,” said David, a Russian who gave only his first name out of fear of reprisals, in an interview with The Associated Press news agency at a border crossing with Georgia. “We are running from the regime that kills people.”

Long lines of cars were also seen on roads to border crossings with Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

“Everyone who is of conscription age should be banned from travelling abroad in the current situation,” Sergei Tsekov, a senior lawmaker who represents Russian-annexed Crimea in Russia’s upper house of parliament, told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Two exiled news sites – Meduza and Novaya Gazeta Europe – both reported that the authorities were planning to ban men from leaving, citing unidentified officials.

‘Widespread confusion and anger’

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Moscow, said there is widespread confusion and anger in Russia over the Kremlin’s push to enlist reservists.

“Many people don’t understand what is going on – who should go and who shouldn’t go,” Vall said, adding that anti-conscription protests had been staged across the country in recent days.

“It’s a complicated situation. Russia hasn’t announced such mobilisation since World War II and there is little experience in doing this, both on the part of the government and on the part of the people,” he added.

The military mobilisation was accompanied by an announcement by Putin that Moscow would stage votes to annex four Ukrainian provinces occupied by its forces. The West calls the votes, due to conclude on Tuesday, a sham pretext to seize territory captured by force.

The military call-up has led to the first sustained protests in Russia since the war began, with one monitoring group estimating at least 2,000 people have been arrested so far. All public criticism of the “special military operation” in Ukraine is banned.

The past few days have also seen the first sustained criticism of the authorities on state-controlled media since the war began, with pro-Kremlin commentators denouncing officials for calling up people too old to fight.

On a talk show on Russia’s main state channel, pro-Kremlin commentators demanded harsh punishments for draft officers who call up the wrong people.

“Can we just shoot them?” asked presenter Vladimir Solovyov. “I am in favour. I would just drag out a couple of those draft officers publicly,” he said. “Grab that draft officer by the ear and send him to the front in the Donbas!”

Peskov acknowledged that some call-up notices had been issued in error, saying mistakes were being corrected by regional governors and the Ministry of Defence.

Russia counts millions of former conscripts as official reservists. The authorities have not spelled out precisely who is due to be called up – that part of Putin’s order is classified – but have said they will draft 300,000 people, mostly with recent military experience.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said on Monday “many tens of thousands” of draftees had already received orders. They were expected to be sent swiftly to the front line where they were “likely to suffer a high attrition rate”, it said.

“The lack of military trainers, and the haste with which Russia has started the mobilisation, suggests that many of the drafted troops will deploy to the front line with minimal relevant preparation.”

Images circulating on the internet have shown clashes between crowds and police, particularly in areas where ethnic minorities predominate, such as mainly Muslim Dagestan in the south and Buryatia, home to Mongol Buddhists, in Siberia.

More than 70 people were arrested at protests against mobilisation in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s regional capital, local news outlet Kavkaz Realii said. It said security forces used stun guns, batons and pepper spray against protesters.

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