Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister , died at the age of 67 Friday after being shot during a campaign speech in western Japan, hospital officials confirmed. Japan’s NHK Television earlier reported Abe’s death. It was a shocking attack in a country that has some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere.
Abe was shot from behind minutes after he started his speech Friday in Nara in western Japan. Local fire department official Makoto Morimoto said Abe was in cardio and pulmonary arrest after being shot. His heart stopped while he was being airlifted to a hospital, Morimoto said. He was pronounced dead later at the hospital.
Police arrested a male suspect at the scene of the shooting in Nara, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. According to NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, was arrested.
Ministry of Defense officials said Yamagami worked for the Maritime Self-Defense Force for three years until around 2005, NHK reported. The suspect said he was dissatisfied with and aimed to kill Abe in a police statement, NHK said, citing police authorities.
The shooting was “barbaric, and malicious, and it cannot be tolerated,” Kishida said. “We will do everything we can. I would like to use the most extreme words available to condemn this act.”
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Witnesses reported hearing gunshots in the apparent attack in Nara. Abe was standing while making an election campaign speech ahead of Sunday’s election for the parliament’s upper house.
Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Prospective owners must undergo formal instruction as well as written, mental, and drug tests and a rigorous background check.
When he returned to office for the second time 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.
One of Abe’s major domestic successes has been his successful bid to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but that success was tarnished by the coronavirus pandemic that forced its postponement to 2021.
His ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China, and his push to normalize Japan’s defense 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.
Following his resignation, Abe remained an influential political figure in his Liberal Democratic Party. He was campaigning for the party when he was shot Friday.
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply saddened and deeply concerned” about the shooting, multiple outlets reported, adding that he did not know Abe’s condition.
Former President Donald Trump said it was “absolutely devastating news.” He said on his social media app, Truth Social, that Abe “was a true friend of mine and, much more importantly, America. This is a tremendous blow to the wonderful people of Japan, who loved and admired him so much. We are all praying for Shinzo and his beautiful family!”
Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, said “we are all saddened and shocked” by the shooting.
“Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the U.S. The U.S. Government and American people are praying for the well-being of Abe-san, his family, & people of Japan,” he wrote in a tweet.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY; The Associated Press