Japan’s former PM Shinzo Abe assassinated at campaign event

This 2016 photo shows then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam’s Kilo Pier in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kent Nishimura | Getty Images

Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan, died Friday after being shot while delivering a speech.

The 67-year-old, the country’s longest serving prime minister, was shot while campaigning on behalf of the governing Liberal Democratic Party in the city of Nara, near Kyoto.

Gunshots were heard at around 11.30 a.m. local time, NBC reported, and Abe was taken to Nara Medical University Hospital’s emergency room.

“When he was brought to the hospital he was in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest,” Dr. Hidetada Fukushima, who operated on Abe, said at a news conference. “They tried to resuscitate him but at 17:03 he was pronounced dead.” 

“He had gun wounds in two locations and died of heart failure from heavily damaged arteries,” the doctor added.

One person has been apprehended in relation to the shooting, NBC reported, citing officials.

After the gunfire was heard, a man was tackled by several people while the weapon lay on the floor, according to a video that was verified by NBC.

Abe was not campaigning for a parliamentary seat himself, but was supporting the LDP ahead of elections for the country’s upper house of parliament Sunday. It is not clear whether the elections will go ahead as planned.

Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the attack was “a despicable and barbaric act that took place in the midst of an election, which is the foundation of democracy,” adding that it was still being investigated.

The incident has sent shockwaves through Japan, a country where gun violence is extremely rare. Gun rules are very strict in the country; handguns are banned and anyone who wants to own an air rifle or shotgun must undergo extensive training and checks.

Abe resigned as prime minister in August 2020, after serving two terms, due to his worsening health.

The former prime minister is known for his efforts to revive Japan’s economic growth through a range of stimulus policies which became known as “Abenomics.” The aim was to boost productivity, reform Japan’s corporate culture and bring down the country’s debt over the long term, although analysts have said it has had mixed results for the world’s third-largest economy.

International leaders respond

International leaders paid their respects to Abe following news of his death.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Abe a “towering global statesman, an outstanding leader, and a remarkable administrator,” in a tweet.

In a subsequent post, Modi said Abe “made an immense contribution to elevating India-Japan relations.” The Indian Prime Minister said the country would hold a day of national mourning on July 9.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Abe a “wonderful person, great democrat and champion of the multilateral world order.”

Before the death of Abe was confirmed, Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, said he was “saddened and shocked” by the news of the shooting.

“Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the U.S,” Rahm tweeted.

Abe has been widely credited with boosting Japan’s presence on the world stage.

He maintained relations with former U.S. President Donald Trump and even negotiated an initial trade agreement in 2019.

In 2016, he hosted Barack Obama, who was U.S. president at the time, at Hiroshima. Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the place since the atomic bombings by America in 1945.

In October 2018, Abe met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, becoming the first Japanese prime minister to visit Beijing since 2011. For several decades, Japan and China have had tense and fragile relations.

Abe’s visit aimed to boost China-Japanese relations. More recently however, Abe has been an increasingly vocal critic of China, particularly on the issue of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province that must be returned to the mainland. “A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency,” Abe said last year, suggesting that Japan and the U.S. should not stand by if China attacked Taiwan.

Abe has also been credited with being a key figure in the formation of “the Quad,” an informal security alignment between Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

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