Japan executes two Yakuza gangsters for shooting rivals

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan said on Friday that it hanged two death-row inmates, in the first executions since a trio of convicted killers died in the gallows two months ago and drawing immediate protest from human rights groups.

Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters that Katsuji Hamasaki, 64, and Yoshihide Miyagi, 56, two members of Japan's notorious Yakuza organised crime syndicates, were executed for the shooting of two rival gangsters in Chiba, southeast of Tokyo, in 2005.

The executions bring to five the number of death-row inmates hanged since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative government swept to power in landslide December elections.

Japan now has 134 inmates on its death row.

Amnesty International Japan, the Japanese branch of the global rights group, protested on Friday.

"We strongly condemn the five executions conducted since the launch of the new government, which goes against calls by the international community and indicates the government's intention to pave the way for mass executions," it said in a statement.

Tokyo did not execute any condemned inmates 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, Tokyo resumed its use of capital punishment with an unapologetic government minister signing death warrants for three multiple murderers.

Apart from the United States, Japan is the only major industrialised democracy to carry out capital punishment, a practice that has led to repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups.

International advocacy groups say the system is cruel because death row 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.