KASHIHARA – Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe died in hospital on Friday, the establishment that treated him confirmed, hours after he was shot dead during a political campaign rally in an attack described as “absolutely unforgivable.”
“Shinzo Abe was taken (to the hospital) at 12:20 p.m. He was in cardiac arrest when he arrived. CPR was performed. Unfortunately, however, he died at 5:03 p.m.,” said Hidetada Fukushima, professor of emergency medicine at Nara Medical University Hospital.
The murder of the country’s most prominent politician comes during the election campaign ahead of Sunday’s House of Lords election.
Earlier, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida left the campaign trail and flew by helicopter to Tokyo, where he addressed reporters in a voice shaking with emotion.
“I pray that ex-Prime Minister Abe survives,” he said, condemning “a barbaric act of campaigning which is the bedrock of democracy.”
“It is absolutely unforgivable. I condemn this act in the strongest possible terms.
The attack happened before noon in the western region of the country, Nara, where Abe, 67, had given a stump speech in the presence of security forces but bystanders could easily approach him.
Footage released by NHK showed him standing on a stage as a man in a gray shirt and brown trousers approached from behind before pulling something out of a pocket and firing.
At least two shots appear to have been fired, each producing a puff of smoke.
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As viewers and reporters ducked, a man was shown being dragged to the ground by security forces. He was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
Local media, citing law enforcement sources, identified the man as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, with several outlets describing him as a former member of the Maritime Self-Defense Forces, the country’s navy.
He was carrying what local media described as a “homemade gun”, and NHK said he told police after his arrest that he was “targeting Abe to kill him”.
‘A LARGE BANG’
Witnesses at the scene described the shock as the political event turned into chaos.
“The first shot looked like a toy bazooka,” one woman told NHK.
“It didn’t fall and there was a big bang. The second hit was more visible, you could see the spark and the smoke,” she added.
“After the second shot, people surrounded him and gave him heart massage.”
Abe was bleeding from his neck, witnesses said and showed photos. He was reportedly responsive at first, but then lost consciousness.
Officials from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party branch said there had been no threats prior to the incident and his speech had been announced publicly.
Kishida said “no decision” had been made on the election, although several parties announced that their leaders would stop campaigning after the attack.
The attack caused international shock.
“It’s a very, very sad moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at a G20 meeting in Bali, saying the United States was “deeply saddened and deeply concerned.”
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said he was “extremely shocked” by Abe’s shooting, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply shocked” by the news.
‘PROFOUNDLY SAD AND SHOCKING‘
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, served for a year in 2006 and again from 2012 to 2020 when he was forced to step down due to a debilitating bowel disease, ulcerative colitis.
He was a warmongering conservative who pushed for the revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution to recognize the country’s military, and remained a prominent political figure even after his resignation.
Japan has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, and annual gun deaths in the country of 125 million people are regularly in the single digits.
Obtaining a firearms license is a long and complicated process for Japanese citizens, who must first obtain a recommendation from a shooting club and then undergo strict police checks.
Japan “hasn’t seen anything like it for over 50 to 60 years,” Corey Wallace, an assistant professor at Kanagawa University who specializes in Japanese politics, told AFP.
He said the last similar incident was probably the 1960 assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, leader of Japan’s Socialist Party, who was stabbed to death by a right-wing youth.
“But two days before an election by such an important (man)…it is truly deeply saddening and shocking.”
He also pointed out that Japanese politicians and voters are used to a personal and narrow style of campaigning.
“That could really change.”
- AFP/ Editor/ NHK