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Japan PM shakes up cabinet as ire grows over ties with Unification Church

As Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffles his cabinet on Wednesday, public anger about his party’s longstanding links to the Unification Church grows.

Some cabinet members survived the reshuffle, the foreign and finance ministers, for instance. But the shakeup saw the recently assassinated former PM Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi, who had been defence minister, removed.

PM Kishida claimed he chose experienced ministers to tackle numerous crises but only those who agreed to “review” their ties with the cryptic religious group in order to regain public trust.

At a news conference, PM Kishida denied having any ties to the Unification Church. The official went on to stress that the organisation, which earned itself the monicker of a cult among critics, had no influence on the policy of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

“We need to respect the freedom of religion but it’s only natural that these groups need to obey laws and be dealt with if they veer from them,” PM Kishida said. “I have no connection with the church as far as I know.

The PM went on to say that politicians did meet with many people in the course of their jobs, but that when it came to problematic groups they needed to break off connections.

Analysts were surprised by the cabinet shake-up that came earlier than they expected. They went on to highlight how lawmakers’ ties to the church have become a liability for the PM less than a year after he came to power. The reshuffle is overshadowed by the recent killing of former PM Shinzo Abe last month, whose suspected killer claimed that his own (the killer’s) mother was a Unification Church member gone bankrupt by donating to the organisation. The suspected murderer put the blame on Mr Abe for promoting the group.

The issue of the Unification Church found reflection in the latest survey, where Kishida’s support had fallen to 46 percent from 59 percent just three weeks ago. This has been his lowest rating since becoming prime minister last October.

Criticism over the Unification Church caused a big drop in public support for the administration and stopping that decline was a big reason for bringing forward the reshuffle of the cabinet and major party positions,” said Shigenobu Tamura, a political commentator who previously worked for the LDP.

In all, seven ministers who had disclosed ties to the church were reshuffled, Mr Tamura said.

Despite the LDP’s attempts to disavow its ties with the church, the organisation defended its right to participate in politics, holding a rare news conference.

The Unification Church

Colloquially known as Moonies, the Unification Church was founded in South Korea in 1954. It has been drawing attention owing to its ritual of mass weddings. Established by Korean businessman Sun Myung Moon, the church has come under fire over various issues including how it raises funds. In the political dimension, it has been involved in politics, which included anti-communism and support for Korean reunification.

In terms of its beliefs, the Unification Church is based on Moon’s book Divine Principle, which differs from the teachings of Nicene Christianity in its view of Jesus and in its introduction of the concept of “indemnity”. Central to Unification teachings is the concept that fallen humanity can be restored to God only through a messiah, who comes as a new Adam to become the new head of the human race, replacing the sinful parents, through whom mankind can be reborn into God’s family. According to religion, Jesus is this messiah. The movement has been controversial, with some critics calling it a dangerous cult.

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