Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe died in hospital on Friday, according to local media, hours after he was shot and wounded in the middle of a campaign rally, an attack that sparked great emotion in Japan and abroad.
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“According to a senior official of the PLD (the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, editor’s note), former Prime Minister Abe died in the hospital” of Kashihara in Nara department, where he was transferred after the attack, the said Channel NHK with. He was 67 years old.
“It is a barbaric act in the middle of an election campaign that forms the basis of democracy and it is absolutely unforgivable,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned during an early afternoon news conference before Mr Abe was pronounced dead.
Clearly moved, Mr Kishida said he had “prayed” for the survival of Mr Abe, his former political mentor, whose foreign minister he was from 2012 to 2017.
According to state broadcaster NHK, Mr Abe was hospitalized with “cardiac respiratory arrest” – a term used in Japan to indicate the absence of any signs of life and which usually precedes an official death certificate.
The former CEO was delivering a speech near a train station in Nara, western Japan, during a campaign rally ahead of the Senate elections on Sunday, when gunfire was heard, national broadcaster NHK and Kyodo News Agency reported.
A man in his 40s was disarmed and arrested for attempted murder, according to NHK citing police sources.
According to multiple local media, the suspect is a 41-year-old Japanese man who was once a member of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Japanese Navy.
NHK footage showed Japanese police officers in riot gear wearing riot gear entering a building identified by the broadcaster as the suspect’s home on Friday afternoon.
In NHK footage showing the moment of the attack, Mr. Abe is standing on a podium, then a loud bang is heard and smoke billows out. While the spectators, surprised by the detonation, bend down, several people beat another to the ground.
Mr Abe “made a speech and a man came from behind,” a young woman at the scene told NHK.
“The first shot sounded like a toy. He didn’t fall and there was a big bang. The second shot was more visible, you could see the spark and the smoke,” she added.
“After the second shot, people surrounded him and gave him cardiac massage,” she said.
Mr Abe collapsed and was bleeding from the neck, a source from the ruling nationalist right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) told Jiji News Agency.
Local PLD officials said they received no threat before the attack and that Mr Abe’s speech had been publicly announced.
Former leader of the PLD, Mr. Abe, was the longest-serving Japanese prime minister. He was in office from 2006-2007, then again from 2012-2020. He had to resign due to ill health, but remained very influential within the PLD, of which he controlled the main parliamentary group.
After the attack, reactions came in from all over the world.
“It is a very, very sad moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday, adding that the United States is “deeply saddened and deeply concerned” by the attack.
“Our thoughts, our prayers are with him, his family and the Japanese people,” he added.
“Abe-san was a pre-eminent leader of Japan and a staunch ally of the United States. The government and people of the United States pray for the well-being of Abe-san, his family and the Japanese people,” said US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel.
European Council President Charles Michel said he was “shocked and saddened” by the “cowardly” attack on Mr Abe, whom he described as a “true friend, a fierce defender of the multilateral order and democratic values”.
Japan hasn’t seen anything like this “for more than 50 to 60 years,” Corey Wallace, a senior lecturer at Kanagawa University and a specialist in Japanese politics, told AFP.
According to him, the last similar incident in Japan was the 1960 assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, who was stabbed by a far-right student.
“But two days before an election (and a man) that is so important (…) it is deeply saddening and shocking,” he added.
Japan has one of the strictest gun control laws in the world, and the annual death toll from guns in the country of 125 million people is extremely low.
Obtaining a gun license is a long and complicated process, even for Japanese nationals, who must first obtain a recommendation from a shooting club and then undergo a strict police check.