Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shot dead during speech in Nara

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TOKYO — Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead during a campaign event on Friday, Japanese officials said, shocking a country with some of the world’s strictest gun laws and violence army is rare.

Party officials quoted in Japanese media said Abe was unconscious and state broadcaster NHK reported the 67-year-old showed no vital signs. He had given a speech in Nara, east of Osaka, ahead of elections for Japan’s upper house of parliament on Sunday.

At least two shots were heard. A suspect was arrested at the scene for attempted murder and a firearm was seized, NHK said. Police later identified the suspect as a man in his 40s named Tetsuya Yamagami, from Nara, according to local media.

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Footage broadcast on NHK 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.

Abe was admitted to Nara Medical University Hospital, and government sources quoted in the media said the former leader was in critical condition. Local media, citing law enforcement sources, described Abe’s status as “cardiopulmonary arrest”, a term often used in Japan before death was officially confirmed.

Videos posted to social media from the campaign event showed a chaotic scene with Abe lying immobile on the ground as attendees cried out for an ambulance.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno confirmed Abe was shot at around 11:30 a.m. on Friday and said the government was working to confirm his condition. “Such violence cannot be allowed,” Matsuno said, adding that cabinet members campaigning for this weekend’s election have been told to return to Tokyo.

Officials from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party condemned the attack. “This is truly an unforgivable act of political terrorism,” said Sanae Takaichi, chairwoman of the party’s Policy Research Council and 2021 prime minister candidate.

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Abe resigned as prime minister in 2020, citing health reasons, but remains influential within the LDP.

As Japan’s longest-serving leader, he oversaw a period of relative stability as prime minister from 2012 to 2020, enhancing Japan’s global image and emphasizing a strong alliance with the United States, even as former US President Donald Trump tested longstanding relationships with allies. .

Abe focused on reviving Japan’s stagnant economy through a program dubbed “Abenomics” and sought to expand Japan’s military defenses. He attempted to change the country’s controversial post-war pacifist constitution and continued to push the country into more defensive postures even after leaving office.

He previously led the country from 2006 to 2007 but resigned due to chronic ulcerative colitis, the same condition that led to his resignation in 2020. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was campaigning in Yamagata when the shooting occurred, had returned to Tokyo and the cancellation of campaign events.

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

Rahm Emanuel, the American ambassador to Tokyo, in a statement praised Abe as “Japan’s outstanding leader and staunch ally of the United States” and offered prayers for his family and the Japanese people.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to the shooting during remarks on the sidelines of a Group of 20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Indonesia, saying he was “deeply saddened and deeply concerned” by “the attempt on the life of the ‘former Prime Minister Abe’.

“Our thoughts, our prayers are with him, with his family, with the Japanese people,” Blinken said. “It’s a very, very sad moment.”

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Anthony Albanese, Australian Prime Minister, tweeted that “our thoughts are with his family and the Japanese people”.

Shehzad Poonawalla, a spokesman for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, lamented the “terrible news” and said Abe had been a “true friend” of India.

The last time a Japanese politician was attacked in the same way as Abe was in 1992, when LDP member and Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru was attacked by a gunman, but did not been injured.

Police said on Friday that the firearm used in the attack on Abe appeared to be homemade, according to NHK, but law enforcement has not officially released any information about the weapon.

Firearms are strictly regulated in Japan, where shooting is a serious sport like archery or judo. Gun violence is most often associated with the yakuza, Japan’s criminal network. Last year, 14 of Japan’s 17 shootings were yakuza-related, according to the National Police Agency.

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 sets of background and health checks and checks on the gun owner, including information about family, mental health, personal debts, and criminal records. The weapon must be registered and inspected by the police.

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