world news Former prime minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving leader, died on Friday hours after he was shot at a campaign event in the western city of Nara, shocking a country in which political violence is rare and guns are tightly controlled.
Abe, 67, had been delivering a stump speech near a train station in the western city when he was shot by an assailant.
It was the first assassination of a sitting or former Japanese premier since the 1930s.
Speaking before Abe’s death was announced, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the attack in the “strongest terms” while world leaders expressed shock at the shooting.
“This attack is an act of brutality that happened during the elections – the very foundation of our democracy – and is absolutely unforgivable,” said Kishida, struggling to keep his emotions in check.
A fire department official said Abe appeared to be in a state of cardiac arrest when he was airlifted to hospital.
Suspect used handmade gun Japanese police named Abe’s suspected killer as unemployed 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, who told officers he had used a handmade gun.
“That’s the suspect’s assertion, and we have determined that (the gun) is clearly handmade in appearance, although our analysis is currently ongoing,” a police officer in the Nara region, where the assassination took place, told reporters.
“Investigators later raided his home and found explosives there,” said FRANCE 24’s Yuka Royer, reporting from Tokyo.
The suspect admitted killing Abe and said he held a grudge against an organisation that he believed the politician was connected to, according to the police.
“The suspect stated that he held a grudge against a particular organisation, and that he committed the crime because he believed former prime minister Abe had a connection to it,” said the senior police officer, declining to give further details.
Shinzo Abe remained a hugely influential figure even after his resignation. © Franck Robichon, Reuters Abe was making a campaign speech outside a train station when two shots rang out at about 11:30 a.m. (0230 GMT). Security officials were then seen tackling a man in a grey T-shirt and beige trousers.
“There was a loud bang and then smoke,” businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who was at the scene, told Reuters, adding that the gun was the size of a television camera.
“The first shot, no one knew what was going on, but after the second shot, what looked like special police tackled him.”
Kyodo news service published a photograph of Abe lying face-up on the street by a guardrail, blood on his white shirt. People were crowded around him, one administering heart massage.
Nara emergency services said he had been wounded on the right side of his neck and left clavicle.
‘Shocking news’Political violence is rare in Japan, a country with strict gun regulations.
“There has never been anything like this,” Airo Hino, a political science professor at Waseda University, told Reuters
Abe served two terms as prime minister to become Japan’s longest-serving premier before stepping down in 2020 citing ill health.
But he remained a dominant presence over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), controlling one of its major factions.
“Even without holding office, he remained an enormously influential figure in Japan,” said FRANCE 24’s Michael Penn, reporting from Tokyo.
The ambassador of the United States, Rahm Emanuel, said he was saddened and shocked by the shooting of an outstanding leader and unwavering ally.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “deeply shocked by this heinous attack”.
“Shocking news from Japan that former PM Shinzo Abe has been shot – our thoughts are with his family and the people of Japan at this time,” Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote on Twitter.
Shocking news from Japan that former PM Shinzo Abe has been shot – our thoughts are with his family and the people of Japan at this time
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) July 8, 2022 Youngest prime ministerAbe was best known for his signature “Abenomics” policy which featured bold monetary easing and fiscal spending.
He also bolstered defence spending after years of declines and expanded the military’s ability to project power abroad.
In a historic shift in 2014, his government reinterpreted the postwar, pacifist constitution to allow troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.
The following year, legislation ended a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or defending a friendly country under attack.
Abe, however, did not achieve his long-held goal of revising the US-drafted constitution by writing the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan’s military in known, into the pacifist Article 9.
He was instrumental in winning the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo, cherishing a wish to preside over the Games, which were postponed by a year to 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Abe first took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War Two. After a year plagued by political scandals, voter outrage at lost pension records, and an election drubbing for his ruling party, Abe quit citing ill health.
He became prime minister again in 2012.
Abe hails from a wealthy political family that included a foreign minister father and a grandfather who served as premier.
First elected to parliament in 1993 after his father’s death, Abe rose to national fame by adopting a tough stance toward unpredictable neighbour North Korea in a feud over Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang decades ago.
Though Abe also sought to improve ties with China and South Korea, where bitter wartime memories run deep, he riled both neighbours in 2013 by visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, seen by Beijing and Seoul as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
In later years in office, Abe refrained from visiting in person and instead sent ritual offerings.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)