TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Around half of the lawmakers belonging to Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party had dealings with a contentious religious group believed to be a major reason behind the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the party said Thursday.
The outcome of the LDP's internal survey sheds light on the deep-rooted relations between the party, headed by Abe for more than eight years, and the Unification Church, which has become the source of controversy since he was shot on July 8 during an election campaign speech.
LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters that 179 of its lawmakers said they had some connections with the Unification Church.
Among 379 LDP lawmakers, excluding leaders of both chambers of parliament, high-ranking party lawmakers are also included in those who had ties with the church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
"We take the result seriously and frankly reflect on it," Motegi said at a press conference at the party's headquarters, adding the LDP will urge its members to ensure that they will never have relations with the group.
LDP lawmakers who do not abide by the policy cannot participate in party activities ahead, Motegi said. He reiterated that the ruling party has not had any organizational relationship with the controversial Unification Church.
The group, founded in South Korea in 1954 by the late Sun Myung Moon and labeled a cult by critics, has become a social problem for its mass weddings and "spiritual sales," in which people are talked into buying jars and other items for exorbitant prices.
Abe's attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, has told investigators that he harbored a grudge against the religious group and targeted the former premier. He has reportedly said his mother's substantial donations to the organization ruined his family's finances.
In a parliament session earlier in the day, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who now heads the LDP, emphasized the Unification Church has not influenced the policymaking process of his ruling party.
As the issue has led to a drop in the support rating for his Cabinet, Kishida said the LDP will make efforts to "restore the public trust," calling on its local assembly members to sever ties with the religious group entirely.
Kishida, meanwhile, told reporters later in the day that it is difficult to scrutinize Abe's past relations with the religious group as he is no longer alive.
The prime minister also pledged to implement measures to strengthen internal surveillance on ties between his ruling party and the Unification Church, which has been criticized for being engaged in antisocial activities.