Japan’s former PM Shinzo Abe assassinated at campaign event

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Japan’s former PM Shinzo Abe assassinated at campaign event

Japan’s ex-PM Shinzo Abe assassinated at campaign event

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 67, was assassinated by a gunman as he delivered a campaign speech in western Japan.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated Friday on a street in western Japan by a gunman who opened fire on him from behind as he delivered a campaign speech — an attack that stunned the nation with some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere.

Abe, 67, was shot from behind minutes after he started his speech in Nara. He was airlifted to a hospital for emergency treatment but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was later pronounced dead despite emergency treatment that included massive blood transfusions, hospital officials said.

Police arrested the suspected gunman at the scene of an attack that shocked many in Japan, which is one of the world’s safest nations and has some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere.

With a population of 125 million, the country had only 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.

“Japan is one of the most peaceful, non-violent societies on the planet,” Ian Burney, Canada’s ambassador to Japan between 2016 and 2021, told CBC News. “Murders of any kind are rare, to say nothing of political assassinations of this nature.”

Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe, centre, falls on the ground in Nara, western Japan Friday. Abe was in heart failure after apparently being shot during a campaign speech Friday in western Japan, NHK public television said. (Kyodo News/The Associated Press)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his cabinet ministers hastily returned to Tokyo from campaign events around the country after the shooting, which he called “dastardly and barbaric.”

Nara Medical University emergency department chief Hidetada Fukushima said Abe suffered major damage to his heart in addition to two neck wounds that damaged an artery, causing extensive bleeding. He was in a state of cardio and pulmonary arrest when he arrived at the hospital and never regained his vital signs, Fukushima said.

Abe was Japan’s longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2020.

Public television NHK aired a dramatic video of Abe giving a speech outside a train station in the western city of Nara. He is standing, dressed in a navy blue suit, raising his fist, when two gunshots are heard. The video then shows Abe collapsed on the street, with security guards running toward him. He holds his chest, his shirt smeared with blood.

In the next moment, security guards leap on top of a man in gray shirt who lies face down on the pavement. A double-barrelled device that appeared to be a handmade gun is seen on the ground.

A man believed to be a suspect in the shooting is held by police officers at Yamato Saidaiji Station in Nara, Japan, on Friday. (Nara Shimbun/Kyodo News via AP)

Nara prefectural police confirmed the arrest of Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, on suspicion of attempted murder. NHK reported that the suspect served in the Maritime Self-Defense Force for three years in the 2000s.

Police said the suspect used a gun that was obviously homemade — about  40 centimetres long — and they confiscated similar weapons and his personal computer when they raided his nearby one-room apartment.

Police said Yamagami was responding calmly to questions and had admitted to attacking Abe, telling investigators he had plotted to kill him because he believed rumours about the former leader’s connection to a certain organization that police did not identify.

A woman cries at the site where Abe was shot near Yamato-Saidaiji station in Nara, western Japan. (Issei/Kato)

Other videos from the scene showed campaign officials surrounding Abe. The former leader was still highly influential in the governing Liberal Democratic Party and headed its largest faction, Seiwakai. Elections for Japan’s upper house, the less powerful chamber of its parliament, are Sunday.

“I use the harshest words to condemn [the act],” Kishida said as he struggled to control his emotions. He said the government planned to review the security situation, but added that Abe had the highest protection.

Opposition leaders condemned the attack as a challenge to Japan’s democracy. In Tokyo, people stopped on the street to grab extra editions of newspapers or watch TV coverage of the shooting.

Sought to rewrite constitution

When he resigned as prime minister, Abe said he had a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager.

He told reporters at the time that it was “gut wrenching” to leave many of his goals unfinished. He spoke of his failure to resolve the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia and a revision of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

That last goal was a big reason he was such a divisive figure.

PHOTOS | Abe leaves divided legacy:  

His ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China, and his push to create what he saw as a more normal defence posture angered many Japanese. Abe failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution because of poor public support.

Loyalists said that his legacy was a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship that was meant to bolster Japan’s defence capability. But Abe made enemies by forcing his defence goals and other contentious issues through parliament, despite strong public opposition.

Abe was a political blue blood who was 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” nation with a stronger military and bigger role in international affairs.

WATCH | Abe was still active in public life:

Japan’s former PM Shinzo Abe assassinated

Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has died after being shot during a campaign speech in western Japan, hospital officials said. He was 67.

Many foreign officials expressed shock over the shooting.

Abe said he was proud of working while leader for a stronger Japan-U.S. security alliance and shepherding the first visit by a serving U.S. president to the atom-bombed city of Hiroshima. He also helped Tokyo gain the right to host the 2020 Olympics by pledging that a disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant was “under control” when it was not.

Abe became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52, but his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health.

WATCH | Trudeau reacts to Abe’s assassination: 

Trudeau reacts to death of Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences to the former Japanese prime minister’s family and loved ones following news of his assassination.

The end of Abe’s scandal-laden first stint as prime minister was the beginning of six years of annual leadership change, remembered as an era of “revolving door” politics that lacked stability and long-term policies.

When he returned to office in 2012, Abe vowed to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.

He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power, bolstering Japan’s defense role and capability and its security alliance with the U.S. He also stepped up patriotic education at schools and raised Japan’s international profile.