Japanese Man Fatally Shoots Himself in Front of Parliament

A reputed right-wing extremist fatally shot himself in the head in front of Japan's parliament Wednesday, demanding a tougher foreign policy and more support for a disputed war shrine.

The man, who was not immediately identified by police and appeared to be in his 60s, died at a hospital shortly after the shooting. He bore a protest letter to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda calling for "firm" handling of foreign policy.

Kyodo News agency reported that the letter referred to China, but police said it called for a tougher foreign policy in general and for the government to defend Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine, which honors Japan's war dead. China and others have criticized the shrine.

Media reports said the man was apparently a right-wing activist. Such extremists have committed violent and often suicidal acts near government buildings to publicize nationalist positions.

Last month a right-wing extremist threw a Molotov cocktail into the Foreign Ministry compound and lightly cut himself with a knife. He also was carrying a protest letter, but police did not release its contents.

In the latest violence, police refused to confirm reports the man was a right-winger. They said they were still checking his identity.

The man was also carrying a second letter that was addressed to the Japanese media and called on them to promote visits to Yasukuni, a Tokyo Police official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

Yasukuni honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including wartime leaders executed for World War II crimes. Critics say the shrine supports the kind of militarism that led to Japan's invasions of neighboring countries in the 1930s and 40s.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi infuriated China and South Korea with his repeated visits to the shrine in 2001-06.

Koizumi's successors have worked hard to repair ties with Beijing and avoided further shrine visits. Fukuda, considered a proponent of warmer relations with China, has foresworn visits to Yasukuni.

Shootings are relatively rare in Japan, which has strict controls on handguns. The vast majority of shootings in the country are committed by the country's "yakuza" organized crime gangs, which have close ties with right-wing extremists.