Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dies after shooting during speech in Nara

TOKYO — Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a prominent political figure at home and abroad, died after he was shot at a campaign event on Friday, doctors said, shocking a country where gun laws are among the strictest in the world and gun violence is rare.

Abe, 67, was looking for a political colleague from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Nara, near Osaka, on Friday morning when a gunman opened fire with what police described as an improvised weapon.

Hidetada Fukushima, head of the emergency center at Nara Medical University Hospital, said Abe had no vital signs when he arrived at 12:20 p.m. on Friday. Doctors found two bullet wounds in his neck and one of the bullets had struck his heart, Fukushima said. Despite efforts to save him, including a transfusion, Abe died of blood loss less than five hours later.

Who is Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese leader killed in a gun attack?

Emergency first responders moved a suspected former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from an ambulance to a helicopter after a July 8 shooting. (Video: AP)

The assassination of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister and a staunch US ally sent shock waves across the country ahead of elections for the upper house of parliament on Sunday.

Police have arrested a suspect, a 41-year-old Nara man in his 40s named Tetsuya Yamagami, and grabbed a gun. Yamagami was a member of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force for three years, defense officials told Japanese media.

Footage from the event showed Abe giving a speech and then a plume of smoke forming behind him as he collapsed. Officials raced to apprehend the shooter, who appeared to be positioned behind Abe. The videos showed a chaotic scene with Abe lying motionless on the ground as attendees screamed for an ambulance.

After the first shot, which did not hit Abe, he turned to see where the noise was coming from, Nara police said. A second bullet then hit him in the front of the body.

Yamagami admitted to trying to kill and said he wanted to attack Abe because he thought Abe was connected to a group he hated, police said, declining to name the group. Police found several homemade firearms at Yamagami’s home. The weapon he used on Friday was nearly 16 inches long.

Abe, who came from a prominent political family, was the youngest person to become prime minister of post-war Japan. His popularity soared after he resigned from office in 2020, and he remained a power broker who attended campaign events in support of other LDP politicians.

At an emotional press conference after Abe’s death, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hailed his former colleague as “a dear friend who loved this country”.

“To lose such a character in this way is absolutely devastating,” he said.

Kishida said Sunday’s upper house election would go ahead as scheduled but with heightened security measures, saying it was important to protect the democratic process and not allow violence to change course.

“Elections are the foundation of democracy, which we must defend. We cannot give in to violence. For this reason, we will continue to lead the electoral campaign to the end. I hope the Japanese people will reflect and work hard to protect this democracy,” Kishida said.

At a press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly condemned the shooting that killed former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Video: The Washington Post)

Earlier, on the verge of tears, the prime minister called the attack a “despicable and barbaric act”.

Japanese media reported that the suspect told police he was frustrated with Abe and pointed his gun with the intention of killing the former Tory leader.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigns for health reasons

Abe oversaw a period of relative stability as prime minister from 2012 to 2020, boosting Japan’s global image and emphasizing a strong alliance with the United States, even as the then US president , Donald Trump, was testing longstanding relationships with allies. The couple formed a close personal relationship and often played golf together.

But as a Japanese nationalist, Abe was sometimes a polarizing figure. He made several visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial that recognizes war criminals, among others, infuriating some of Japan’s neighbors, especially China, which has suffered under the country’s imperial militarism.

Abe focused on reviving Japan’s stagnant economy through a program dubbed “Abenomics”, and he sought to expand Japan’s military defenses. Controversially, he attempted to change the country’s post-war pacifist constitution; even after leaving office, he continued to press for Japan to increase its defensive capabilities, more recently suggesting after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that Japan should discuss a nuclear “sharing” program similar to NATO members.

Previously, Abe led the country from 2006 to 2007 but resigned due to chronic ulcerative colitis, the same condition that led to his resignation in 2020.

Abe’s maternal grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, survived an assassination attempt in 1960 when he was stabbed in the thigh during a reception at the prime minister’s office.

Foreign leaders expressed their sympathy by reacting with horror to the events in Nara.

In a statement ahead of Abe’s death, the White House said it was “shocked and saddened to learn of the violent attack.” “We are closely following the reports and keeping our thoughts with his family and the Japanese people,” he said.

Abe’s legacy matters to Kishida, Japan’s next prime minister

The Chinese Foreign Ministry sent its condolences to his family. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Abe was “not only my good friend, but also Taiwan’s most loyal friend”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “completely appalled and saddened”. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply distressed”. The Kremlin said it “strongly condemned” the attack on “a patriot who defended the interests of Tokyo”.

There has not been an attack on a Japanese politician for many years. In 2007, Ito Itcho, the mayor of Nagasaki, died after being shot by a gunman. Before that, a gunman shot Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa in a hotel in 1994, but he was not injured.

Kishida, who was campaigning in Yamagata when the shooting occurred, canceled his campaign schedule on Friday and returned to Tokyo.

Guns are strictly regulated in Japan, and gun violence is most often associated with the yakuza, Japan’s criminal network. Eight of Japan’s 10 shootings last year were yakuza-related, according to the National Police Agency, resulting in one death and four injuries.

Anyone trying to get a gun in Japan must apply for a license, take a course on gun safety and laws, and pass a written test. There is a full day training course on safe shooting and practice techniques. There are several rounds of checks and checks on the gun owner’s background and health, including information about his family, mental health, personal debts, and criminal record. The weapon must be registered and inspected by the police.

Comments are closed.