Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving former prime minister, was shot dead during a speech in the western city of Nara.
Abe collapsed around 11:30 a.m. and was airlifted to hospital by helicopter after two shots hit his neck and left collarbone, according to local firefighters. He was unconscious and in cardiac arrest.
The assassination of one of Japan’s most important leaders will shock a society that has suffered little political violence in half a century.
“Such an act of brutality is unforgivable and we strongly condemn it,” said Hirokazu Matsuno, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary. Abe’s condition was unknown, Matsuno said.
Police arrested a 41-year-old suspect at the scene of the shooting, according to local media. The assailant used a shotgun, the reports added.
Mobile phone videos taken by passers-by showed Abe giving a speech near Yamato-Saidaiji Station in suburban Nara. A puff of white smoke was visible behind him.
Two students who witnessed the shooting told state broadcaster NHK they heard a loud bang when Abe was first shot.
“He didn’t collapse, we just heard a very loud noise, but it didn’t seem like anything happened to him,” said one of the students. She said the smoke was ‘clearly visible after the second shot’ and that ‘Mr Abe collapsed as the second shot was fired’.
The second student said the shooter “did not run away and just stood there, putting his gun down nearby. He was quickly surrounded by security.
Rahm Emanuel, US Ambassador to Japan, said he was shocked by the shooting. “Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and a staunch ally of the United States,” he said.
During his two terms from 2006 to 2007 and 2012 to 2020, Abe was known for his economic recovery plan and his conservative views on history.
Launched in 2012, the stimulus package, known as Abenomics, aimed to pull Japan’s economy out of decades of deflation.
Abe also held hawkish views on history and reforming the pacifist constitution to expand Japan’s military role – an agenda he continued to champion after stepping down two years ago due to ill health.
Even after Fumio Kishida took over as prime minister last October, Abe remained influential in all aspects of Japanese politics as the leader of the largest faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Prior to Friday’s shooting, the former prime minister was campaigning for Sunday’s election to Japan’s upper house. He fiercely defended the legacy of his economic program and urged the public to support increased defense spending in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and fears that China could attack Taiwan.
Beyond his economic policy, Abe has pushed for free trade and promoted his vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, which Kishida and US President Joe Biden inherited as they build a series of alliances in the region to counter an aggressive China.