Alleged gangster sentenced to death in Japan

A court in Japan convicted an alleged gangster and sentenced him to death today for the fatal shooting of a popular mayor in a crime that stunned a nation that takes pride in its rigid gun-control laws.

Tetsuya Shiroo was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Nagasaki District Court, court spokesman Hiroyuki Mano said. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, while the defence had argued that was too harsh.

Mayor Iccho Ito, 61, was shot twice in the back at close range outside a train station in April last year while campaigning for re-election for his fourth term.

The crime was lambasted as an act of violence that aimed to stifle democracy. It also raised fears about guns on the streets as well as about organised crime in a nation that has long boasted a relatively crime-free record.

Shiroo, 60, who police say is a senior member of Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organised crime syndicate, was arrested on the scene. He told police he was angry at the city for refusing to compensate him after his car was damaged at a public works construction site.

The assassination was the second attack in 20 years against a mayor of the south-western city whose politicians historically have been outspoken pacifists.

In 1990, Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima was shot and seriously wounded after saying that Japan’s emperor bore some responsibility for the Second World War, enraging right-leaning nationalists. A right-wing terrorist was arrested for that attack.

Known as yakuza, gangsters are often involved in construction businesses, corporate extortion, gambling, the sex trade and drug trafficking.

According to the latest police report, gang members in Japan number about 84,200. They are behind two thirds of Japan’s reported shootings, but shootings are still rare compared with the US and other nations at only 65 a year.

Ito had been born in Nagasaki on August 23, 1945, just two weeks after the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki toward the end of the Second World War.

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