TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday amid growing public anger about the ruling party’s ties to the controversial Unification Church, saying the group had held no sway over party policy.
The Liberal Democratic Party’s longstanding links to the Unification Church, which critics call a cult, has become a major liability for Kishida in the month following the killing of former premier Shinzo Abe, helping send Kishida’s approval ratings to the lowest since he took office in October.
Abe’s suspected killer has said his mother, a member of the church, was bankrupted by it and blamed the politician for supporting it. Founded in South Korea in the 1950s and known for its mass weddings, the group has come under criticism for its fundraising and other issues.
Since then, a dozen or so politicians from the conservative LDP have disclosed links to the church or affiliated organisations - such as speaking at events - highlighting a relationship with the fiercely anti-communist church that stretches back to the Cold War.
Support for Japan PM’s cabinet lowest since it was formed: NHK reports
“We need to respect freedom of religion but it’s only natural that these groups need to obey laws and be dealt with if they veer from them,” Kishida told a news conference, adding he did not believe he had any connection with the church.
“I don’t think the Unification Church’s policies have unjustly influenced party policies,” he said.
Key cabinet members, such as the foreign and finance ministers, retained their posts, but some seven ministers who had disclosed links to the church were moved out of the cabinet.
Among those was Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who had been defence minister, although many had expected him to leave for health reasons.
The cabinet shake-up came earlier than analysts had expected, underscoring how quickly the issue has spun into a crisis for Kishida.
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