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Controversial Mayor Shot in Nagasaki

January 18, 1990 GMT

TOKYO (AP) _ The mayor of Nagasaki, the target of death threats since he said Emperor Hirohito bore some responsibility for World War II, was shot and wounded today. Police said they arrested the leader of a rightist group.

The 67-year-old mayor, Hitoshi Motoshima, was rushed to surgery at Nagasaki Public Hospital after being shot in the back outside Nagasaki’s City Hall. Doctors told Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) television a bullet pierced his left lung, but he was not in serious condition.

About five hours after the attack, police said they had arrested a man who confessed to shooting the mayor. Police identified him as Kazumi Tajiri, 40, of Tokyo, and said he was arrested at a hotel in Nagasaki, a city 600 miles southwest of Tokyo.

A police spokesman described Tajiri as the leader of a rightist group called Sane Thinkers’ School.

Rightist groups in Japan venerate the imperial family and are strongly anti-Communist. They draw much of their inspiration from the militarism that prevailed before World War II.

The police official said the Sane Thinkers’ School has about 30 members in Nagasaki, more than any other rightist group in the city. It was established nine years ago, and some members have been arrested in the past for shooting at a district court judge and for other crimes, said the police official.

City spokesman Megumi Nobeta said the mayor was shot as he was about to get into his car. The attack left a pool of blood in the street beside the car.

The Kyodo News Service quoted witnesses as saying the gunman, a slim man wearing a dark brown suit, came out of City Hall and shot Motoshima at close range.

Television showed Tajiri after he was arrested, and then broadcast a video of a 1987 interview in which Tajiri condoned terrorism.

Asked in the 1987 interview if he would kill somebody he hated, Tajiri responded, ″Yes, because after all, right-wingers are terrorists.″ The comments were made after a 1987 shooting in which a reporter for a liberal- leaning newspaper was killed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mayumi Moriyama said today’s shooting was ″an extremely cruel crime, and it will have a strong impact on society.″

It was the first time a politician had been shot in Japan since World War II, National Police Agency records showed. But the records showed 25 previous attacks on key politicians by rightists using knives, swords, explosives or fists, the agency said.

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Such attacks, while not common, give credence to threats by rightist groups. The most dramatic was in 1960 when a right-wing student, in an assault at a Socialist Party rally that was being televised, stabbed party chairman Inejiro Asanuma to death on stage.

Motoshima has been receiving threats from ultra-nationalists and others since December 1988, when he said at a city assembly session he believed Hirohito, then on his deathbed, ″shares responsibility for the war, as well as all of us who lived in that period.″

Motoshima said Hirohito could have ended World War II sooner and perhaps spared Nagasaki from the atomic bomb. Nagasaki was hit by an atomic bomb Aug. 9, 1945, three days after Hiroshima became the first city to be hit by a nuclear weapon.

The mayor’s comments enraged fringe groups that reject any criticism of the imperial family, and Motoshima continued to receive threats even after Hirohito’s death one year ago.

In December, a right-wing doctor, 62-year-old Shigeru Kajiyama, was sentenced to two years in prison for threatening to kill the mayor. Testimony at his trial said he had sent three anonymous letters containing live bullets to the mayor.

In January 1989, a rightist was arrested after breaking into City Hall with a knife intending to force Motoshima into retracting his statement.

Early last year, rightists mobilized about 100 sound trucks to circle City Hall and blare slogans denouncing the mayor. Police at one time had about 1,200 officers deployed to prevent trouble in the city.

NHK reported that police had relaxed their special guard on Motoshima at the end of 1989 and no longer had officers following him when he was outside his office or home.

Though the rightists made a great deal of noise, supporters of the mayor’s position sent him a petition with some 286,000 signatures in April calling for more freedom to express opinions, even on taboo subjects such as the late emperor’s war responsiblity.

While many scholars believe Hirohito was a figurehead and the militarists made all important decisions during the war, the emperor was the nominal commander in chief and approved key decisions. Critics say Hirohito could have ended the war sooner, but during his life the late emperor never gave much detail on his role during the war.

Motoshima was an independent supported by the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party, but his remarks on the emperor estranged him from the Liberal Democrats, who sent a delegation demanding he retract his opinion. He refused.