The Saturday editions of all national papers gave prominent front- and inside-coverage to the death on Friday of the father of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977. Shigeru Yokota died of natural causes at the age of 87. The papers lamented that he was unable to be reunited with his daughter despite his decades-long crusade to bring her and the other Japanese victims back from North Korea. He led the association representing the families of the abductees from its launch in March 1997 to November 2007, having crisscrossed Japan numerous times together with his wife Sakie to call for public support for his cause. He had been hospitalized for the past few years due to illness. Prime Minister Abe expressed profound sorrow over Yokota’s death by saying: “It is gut-wrenching and truly regrettable that we have not been able to achieve the homecoming of Megumi and the other abductees…. We must act boldly to seize every opportunity to realize their return.”
The dailies said the premier views the abduction issue as one of his administration’s signature policy items and has sought North Korea’s concessions through a “carrot and stick” approach. While the Japanese leader has apparently shelved the pressure approach in the past several years in line with President Trump’s overtures toward DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang has ignored the prime minister’s repeated calls for dialogue “without preconditions.” Sankei predicted that Japan’s diplomacy toward North Korea will make little progress due in part to the prolonged suspension of U.S.-DPRK dialogue.
According to Sankei, an unnamed State Department official released a statement on Friday expressing condolences over Yokota’s death. “We honor him for his work and call upon Pyongyang to release all abductees,” the official was quoted as saying. “The United States continues to urge North Korea to promptly resolve” the abduction issue.