Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was evacuated unhurt after a suspect threw what appeared to be a smoke bomb at an outdoor speech in western Japan on Saturday.
Kishida took cover after a loud explosion was heard while police subdued a man at the scene, Japanese media footage showed. A police officer suffered minor injuries in the incident, the Nikkei newspaper reported, citing Wakayama prefectural police.
“Police are investigating the details of the loud explosive sound at the previous speech venue,” Kishida said when he resumed his campaign speeches. “I am sorry for causing many people to be concerned. We are in the middle of an important election for our country. We must carry this on together.”
The incident echoed the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving modern leader, who was shot with a homemade gun last July while campaigning for a parliamentary election.
Abe’s killing shocked the nation, where gun crimes are exceedingly rare, and prompted a review of security for politicians, who routinely press the flesh with the public.
Masato Kaburagi, a 35-year-old company worker who witnessed the incident, told Reuters security still seemed lax, as it appeared the suspect was first taken down by another bystander.
“I never thought something like this would happen so soon after what happened to Abe,” said Kaburagi, who attended the rally with his wife and mother. “I don’t think I want to go to these political-related events anymore.”
By-elections in various regions for the lower house of Japan’s parliament are to be held on April 23.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said police have been instructed to boost security, and that the government will do what is necessary to ensure security at a summit Kishida will host next month of the Group of Seven industrial powers in Hiroshima.
Japan’s foreign ministry said there would be no change to the security plan for a G7 foreign ministers’ meeting starting on Sunday in the resort city of Karuizawa.
Matsuno said the government would wait for results from the police investigation before commenting on a potential motive from the suspect.
The incident late on Saturday morning occurred at the Saikazaki fishing harbour in Wakayama prefecture, some 65 km (40 miles) southwest of Osaka city.
Kishida was being served local speciality seafood just before the explosion, media reported. News video showed Kishida looking behind him in surprise as shouts filled the semi-enclosed area near the waterside. A canister landed near his feet before being knocked away by a security agent.
A man identified by the Asahi newspaper as a staffer of the fishery cooperative grabbed a young man in a headlock as police swarmed the suspect and dragged him to the ground. About 50 seconds later, an explosion rang out and a cloud of smoke could be seen near where Kishida had been standing.
News footage showed crowds running away as several police officers appeared to pin a man to the ground before removing him from the scene. A 20-30 cm (8- to 12-inch) metal pipe was thrown and landed close to where Kishida was standing, NHK reported, citing an official at the scene.
A 24-year old male suspect from Kawanishi city, charged with forcible obstruction of business, has refused to talk until his lawyer arrives, Kyodo news agency said, citing investigators.
A representative of Wakayama’s prefectural police headquarters told Reuters he could not answer questions about the incident.
A woman on the scene told NHK that she saw an object flying overhead and “it gave me a bad feeling, so we ran away unbelievably fast. Then we heard a really loud noise. It made my daughter cry.”