Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving leader, died on Friday hours after being shot while campaigning for a parliamentary election, shocking a country where political violence is uncommon and guns are strictly regulated.
The shooter opened fire from behind on Abe, 67, as he addressed the public on a drab traffic island in the western city of Nara. According to Japanese media, the weapon appeared to be a homemade gun.
“This is an act of brutality that occurred during elections – the very foundation of our democracy – and is absolutely unforgivable,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Abe’s protege, said, struggling to keep his emotions in check.
It was the first assassination of a sitting or former Japanese leader since a coup attempt in 1936, when several figures, including two ex-premiers, were killed.
Doctors were unable to resuscitate Abe, who was brought to the hospital in cardiopulmonary arrest with no vital signs. He was declared dead five and a half hours after being shot at 5:03 p.m. (0803 GMT).
Despite receiving more than 100 units of blood in transfusions over four hours, he bled to death from deep wounds to the heart and right side of his neck, according to Hidetada Fukushima, the professor in charge of emergency medicine at Nara Medical University Hospital, during a televised news conference.
A 41-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of carrying out the shooting, according to police. According to NHK, the suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he was dissatisfied with Abe and wanted to kill him. According to NHK, the suspect told police that he had previously made numerous homemade explosives and guns.
BANG AND THEN SMOKE
Abe was making a campaign speech outside a train station when two shots rang out. Security officials were then seen tackling a man in a grey T-shirt and beige trousers.
“There was a loud bang and then smoke,” said businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who was present at the scene.
“No one knew what was going on with the first shot, but after the second shot, what appeared to be special police tackled him.”
Abe was found face-up on the street by a guardrail, blood on his white shirt, according to the Kyodo news service. People were swarming around him, with one giving him a heart massage.
Members of the public later laid flowers near the spot where Abe fell.
Senior Japanese politicians are escorted by armed security guards, but they frequently interact with the public, particularly during political campaigns when they make roadside speeches and shake hands with passersby.
In postwar Japan, political violence is uncommon. A yakuza gangster shot and killed Nagasaki’s mayor in 2007. A right-wing youth wielding a samurai short sword assassinated the leader of the Japan Socialist Party during a speech in 1960. A few other prominent politicians have been targeted but have not been injured.