TOKYO (AP) — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated Friday on a street in western Japan by a gunman who shot at him from behind while delivering a campaign speech — an attack that stunned a nation with some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere.
Abe, 67, who was Japan’s longest-serving leader in 2020, collapsed bleeding and was flown to a nearby hospital in Nara, though he was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was later pronounced dead after receiving massive blood transfusions, officials said.
A hearse containing Abe’s body left the hospital on Saturday early to return to his home in Tokyo. Abe’s wife Akie lowered her head as the vehicle passed a crowd of reporters.
Hidetada Fukushima, chief of the emergency department at Nara Medical University, said Abe sustained major damage to his heart, along with two neck injuries that damaged an artery. He never regained his vital signs, Fukushima said.
Police at the scene of the shooting arrested Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, a former member of the Japanese navy, on suspicion of murder. Police said he used a gun that was clearly homemade – about 40 centimeters long – and that they seized similar weapons and his PC when they raided his nearby one-room apartment.
Police said Yamagami responded calmly to questions and admitted to assaulting Abe. He told investigators that he plotted to kill him because he believed rumors of the former leader’s connection to a particular organization that police failed to identify.
A dramatic video from NHK broadcaster shows Abe standing and giving a speech outside a train station ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election. As he raised his fist to make a point, two gunshots rang out and he collapsed, clutching his chest, his shirt smeared with blood as guards rushed toward him. Guards then jumped at the gunman, who was lying face down on the sidewalk, and a double-barreled gun was spotted nearby.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his ministers hurriedly returned to Tokyo after the shooting from campaign events elsewhere, which he called “dastardly and barbaric”. He promised that the elections, which elect members to the less powerful Japanese parliament, would go ahead as planned.
“I use the harshest words to condemn (the act),” Kishida said, struggling to control his emotions. He said the government would review the security situation, but added that Abe enjoys the highest level of protection.
Even though he was out of the office, Abe was still very influential in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and led the largest faction, Seiwakai, but his ultra-nationalist views made him a divisive person for many.
Opposition leaders condemned the attack as a challenge to Japanese democracy. Kenta Izumi, head of the top opposition party of Japan’s Constitutional Democratic Party, called it “an act of terrorism” and said it was “trying to destroy freedom of expression…actually creating a situation where (Abe’s) speech can never be spoken again.” heard .”
In Tokyo, people stopped to buy additional editions of newspapers or watch TV coverage of the shooting. Flowers were placed at the shooting in Nara.
When he stepped down as prime minister, Abe blamed a recurrence of ulcerative colitis he’d had since his teens. He then said it was difficult to leave many of his goals unfinished, especially his failure to resolve the issue of the Japanese kidnapped years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia, and a revision of Japan’s constitution. who renounces the war.
That ultra-nationalism infuriated the Koreas and China, and his urge to create what he saw as a more normal defensive posture angered many Japanese. Abe failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the US-drafted pacifist constitution due to poor public support.
Loyalists said his legacy was a stronger US-Japan relationship designed to bolster Japan’s defense capabilities. But Abe made enemies by forcing his defense goals and other controversial issues through parliament, despite strong public opposition.
Abe was being groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” country with a stronger military and greater role in international affairs.
Tributes to Abe poured in from world leaders, with many expressing shock and sadness. US President Joe Biden praised him, saying, “his vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific will endure. Above all, he cared deeply about the Japanese people and devoted his life to their service.”
On Saturday, Biden called Kishida and expressed his outrage, sadness and deep condolences over Abe’s death. Biden pointed to the importance of Abe’s legacy, including through the establishment of the Japan, US, Australia and India Quad meetings. Biden expressed confidence in the strength of Japanese democracy, and the two leaders discussed how Abe’s legacy will live on as the two allies continue to defend peace and democracy, the White House said.
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose 2005-21 term largely matched Abe’s, said she was devastated by the “cowardly and despicable murder”. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Saturday a day of national mourning for Abe, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted that he would remember him for “his collegiality and commitment to multilateralism”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment, except that Beijing expressed its condolences to Abe’s family and that the shooting should not be linked to bilateral relations. But social media posts from the country have been harsh, with some calling the gunman a “hero” — reflecting strong sentiment against right-wing Japanese politicians who doubt or deny that the Japanese military committed wartime atrocities in China.
Biden, who is coping with a summer of mass shootings in the US, also said that “gun violence always leaves a deep scar on the communities affected.”
Japan is best known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, there were just 10 gun-related criminal cases last year, resulting in one death and four injuries, according to police. Eight of those cases were gang-related. Tokyo had no gun incidents, injuries or deaths in the same year, although 61 guns were seized.
Abe was proud of his work strengthening Japan’s security alliance with the US and accompanying the first visit of a serving US president, Barack Obama, to the atomic bombed city of Hiroshima. He also helped Tokyo gain the right to host the 2020 Olympics by promising that a disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was “under control” when it was not.
He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at the age of 52, but his all-too-nationalistic first stint came to an abrupt end a year later, also because of his health.
The end of Abe’s scandal-laden first term as prime minister marked the beginning of six years of annual leadership changes, remembered as an era of ‘revolving door’ politics without stability.
When he returned to office in 2012, Abe vowed to revitalize the nation and lift the economy out of deflation with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reform.
He won six national elections and built an ironclad grip on power, bolstering Japan’s defense role and capabilities and its security alliance with the US.
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