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Pre-trial hearing for Abe assassination suspect cancelled due to suspicious object

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The pre-trial hearing for the man accused of killing Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe was canceled on Monday after a suspicious object was delivered to the court, local media reported.

The Nara District Court was evacuated after what appeared to be an “unidentified bag” arrived at the court, according to public broadcaster NHK and other outlets. The police were investigating the object and its origin.

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, was scheduled to appear on Monday afternoon for his first pre-trial hearing over Abe’s murder, which shocked the world in July last year. The 42-year-old faces charges of murder and violation of arms control laws, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Abe, Japan’s well-known politician and longest-serving prime minister, was shot with an apparently homemade gun while speaking at a campaign event on July 8. The circumstances of the assassination have ignited scrutiny of what authorities admitted were security “shortcomings”, and led to the resignation of Japan’s police chief.

Yamagami, who underwent a psychiatric assessment that ended in January, spent three years in the navy following a childhood reportedly marred by his father’s suicide and his mother’s alleged neglect and devotion to church activities. Details of his upbringing have stoked anger against the Unification Church and garnered Yamagami sympathy – with supporters showing support for him through donations and a petition calling for leniency.

Less than a year after Abe’s death, in April, a man hurled an explosive device toward Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shortly before he was due to deliver a campaign speech in the city of Wakayama. The leader escaped unharmed, but the fact that an assailant was able to throw the device at such close range so soon after the Abe murder prompted renewed criticism of security arrangements in Japan.

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