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Japan hangs murderer, bringing Abe's toll to six

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Civic group members stage a rally against Japan's death penalty system in Tokyo on October 10, 2010. On Thursday Japan hanged a 73-year-old convicted of shooting dead a Chinese restaurant owner in 2004.AFP/File

Japan hanged a 73-year-old man on Thursday, bringing to six the number of inmates executed since the conservative government of Shinzo Abe came to power in December.

Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki announced the execution of Tokuhisa Kumagai, who was convicted of shooting dead the owner of a Chinese restaurant in a May 2004 robbery, among other crimes.

The execution was the first since two gangsters were sent to the gallows in April and took place despite repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups.

Japan now has 132 inmates on death row, according to the justice ministry.

Tokyo did not execute anyone in 2011, the first full year in nearly two decades without an execution amid muted debate on the rights and wrongs of a policy that enjoys wide public support.

But in March last year it abruptly resumed its use of capital punishment, dispatching three multiple murderers.

Apart from the United States, Japan is the only major industrialised democracy to use capital punishment.

International advocacy groups say the system is cruel because inmates can wait for their executions for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending death a few hours ahead of time.

Iwao Hakamada, 77, is believed to be the world's longest-serving condemned inmate.

He was arrested in 1966, accused of the grisly murder of his boss and the man's family. Supporters, who question his guilt, say the long wait has exacted a huge mental toll on him.

Hakamada ran out of avenues for appeal in 1980, when the Supreme Court upheld his sentence.