Shinzo Abe’s body has been returned to Tokyo as politicians prepared to resume Sunday’s upper house election campaign in the shadow of the assassination of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
Saturday morning, a hearse containing the body of Abe accompanied by his wife Akie left the hospital in Kashihara where the former prime minister was being treated after he was shot from behind by a gunman during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara. The hearse was later seen arriving at his residence in the Tokyo suburb of Shibuya as senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), dressed in black, lined up to pay their respects.
The LDP — the party Abe once led — and other parties said they would resume campaigning on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s vote, in which she and coalition partner Komeito are expected to cement their majority in parliament. Politicians said they were determined to show the killing couldn’t stop democracy.
Meanwhile, police are trying to determine a motive for the murder amid terror and anger that a politician could be shot in broad daylight in one of the world’s safest societies.
The suspect arrested at the scene of Friday’s shooting, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he initially planned to attack the leader of a religious group to which his mother had donated money, causing her to go bankrupt, the news agency said. Kyodo, citing research sources. †
Yamagami, a 41-year-old resident of Nara, said he was also “disgruntled” with Abe, who he accused of promoting the group, adding that he did not attack the politician for disagreeing with his politics.
The suspect had previously said he held a grudge against a “specific organization” and believed Abe was part of it, though police declined to name the group and it’s not clear if it exists.
Yamagami worked at a factory in western Japan’s Kansai region from fall 2020 to May this year, Kyodo quoted an employment agency as saying. He had previously served in the maritime self-defense forces – the Japanese version of the navy – for three years until August 2005.
Police are investigating whether the suspect acted alone.
Nara Prefectural Police said they would investigate whether security at Abe’s event — where he had called on voters to re-elect his LDP colleague Kei Sato — was adequate amid criticism that it should have been stronger.
Officials said no threats had been made against Abe, whose death will almost certainly lead to a rethink of the tradition of bringing politicians into close contact with voters.
Japanese media said a vigil would be held for Abe on Monday and a funeral for close relatives would take place the following day.
Meanwhile, the tributes keep pouring in for the leader. On Saturday, three member states of the Quad grouping that includes Japan praised Abe as a “transformative leader for Japan and for Japan’s relations with each of our countries”.
“He also played a formative role in the creation of the Quad partnership and worked tirelessly to advance a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Joe Biden, Anthony Albanese and Narendra Modi in a joint statement. the US, Australian and Indian leaders.
“Our hearts are with the people of Japan – and Prime Minister Kishida – at this moment of grief. We will honor Prime Minister Abe’s memory by doubling down on our work toward a peaceful and prosperous region.”
Even regional powers with whom Abe had clashed expressed their sympathy. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday, Chinese state media reported, and the Chinese embassy in Japan praised Abe’s “contribution to the improvement and development” of the ties. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called the killing an “unacceptable act”.
Separately, Albanian said monuments across Australia would be lit up in red and white in recognition of Japan’s loss. Biden – who previously said he was “stunned, outraged and deeply saddened” – has ordered flags on US government buildings to be flown at half-mast.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was deeply saddened by a murder that “has deeply shaken Japanese society”.
†[Abe] will be remembered as a staunch defender of multilateralism, respected leader and supporter of the United Nations,” he said.
On Saturday, in Nara, an ancient capital in the west known for its Buddhist temples and free-roaming deer, a steady stream of mourners came to commemorate their former leader, a man who was easily the country’s most recognizable politician.
Alone and in pairs, they stepped forward to lay out flowers, bottles of sports drinks, cellophane-wrapped slices of watermelon, and bags of candy. They bowed and folded their hands in prayer; some wept and lowered their heads as they turned to face the rows of TV cameras.
“I just couldn’t sit back and do nothing. I had to come,” said Sachie Nagafuji, a 54-year-old Nara resident, who visited the crime scene with his son.
Abe was a divisive leader, adored by conservatives who had had enough of decades of official soul-searching over Japan’s wartime behavior, but hated by progressives who watched in horror as he used his party’s comfortable majority in parliament to control some of the legal shackles on the military, known as the self-defense troops.
Among his admirers was Rami Miyamoto, a 23-year-old company employee who had stopped on his way to a work meeting to watch Abe’s speech. “I’m in a state of shock,” she said. “I followed Abe’s career as Prime Minister and admired what he was trying to do for Japan. I will remember him as someone who faced enormous challenges, but always came back and kept going. I will never forgive the person who did this.”
With Reuters and Agence France-Presse