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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
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Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe dies after being shot

The 67-year-old was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 8th 2022, 2:30 PM

JAPAN’S FORMER PRIME minister Shinzo Abe has died by assassination at a campaign event today, prompting shock and grief around the world.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, who left the role in 2020, was shot at around 11.30am in the western region of Nara where he was delivering a campaign speech.

The suspected killer admitted targeting Abe and said he held a grudge against an organisation he believed the politician was connected to, Japanese police said.

“The suspect stated that he held a grudge against a particular organisation, and that he committed the crime because he believed former prime minister Abe had a connection to it,” a senior police officer in Japan’s Nara region told reporters, declining to give further details.

Abe was flown by helicopter to the Nara Medical University hospital where he was pronounced dead several hours later.

“Shinzo Abe was transported to (the hospital) at 12:20 pm. He was in a state of cardiac arrest upon arrival,” said Hidetada Fukushima, professor of emergency medicine at the hospital.

“Resuscitation was administered. However, unfortunately he died at 5:03 pm.”

Fukushima said Abe had suffered two gunshot wounds to the neck and died of massive blood loss, despite being administered enormous transfusions.

Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, visibly emotional, told reporters after Abe’s death was confirmed that he was “lost for words”.

He earlier abandoned the campaign trail and flew to Tokyo by helicopter where in a quivering voice he condemned “a barbaric act during election campaigning, which is the foundation of democracy.”

“It is absolutely unforgivable. I condemn this act in the strongest terms.”

Abe, 67, had been delivering a speech with security present but spectators were able to approach him fairly easily.

Footage broadcast by NHK showed him standing on a stage when a man dressed in a grey shirt and brown trousers approached from behind, before drawing a weapon from a bag and firing.

As spectators and reporters ducked, a man was shown being tackled to the ground by security and he was arrested.

Local media identified the man as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, citing police sources, with several media outlets describing him as a former member of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, the country’s navy.

He was wielding a weapon described by local media as a “handmade gun”, and NHK said he told police after his arrest that he “targeted Abe with the intention of killing him”.

Witnesses at the scene described shock as the political event turned into chaos.

“The first shot sounded like a toy bazooka,” a woman told NHK.

“He didn’t fall and there was a large bang. The second shot was more visible, you could see the spark and smoke,” she said.

Officials from the local chapter of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said there had been no threats before the incident and that his speech had been announced publicly.

Several parties announced their senior members would halt campaigning in the wake of the attack, but the LDP and coalition partner Komeito later announcing that canvassing would resume on Saturday.

The attack prompted international shock, with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeting that the “brutal and cowardly murder” had shocked the world.

“The deadly attack on Shinzo Abe has left me aghast and deeply sad,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol described the killing as an “unacceptable act of crime”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that he was “deeply shocked” at the attack on Abe.

“Deeply shocked at the gun attack on former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr Abe, his family and all the people of Japan,” Martin said in a tweet.

US President Joe Biden said he was “stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened” by the assassination.

“This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him,” Biden said in a statement. “Even at the moment he was attacked, he was engaged in the work of democracy.

The United States stands with Japan in this moment of grief. I send my deepest condolences to his family.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, held office in 2006 for one year and again from 2012 to 2020, when he was forced to step down due to the debilitating bowel condition ulcerative colitis.

He was a hawkish conservative who pushed for the revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution to recognise the country’s military and has stayed a prominent political figure even after his resignation.

Japan has some of the world’s toughest gun-control laws and annual deaths from firearms in the country of 125 million people are regularly in single figures.

Getting a gun licence is a long and complicated process even for Japanese citizens, who must first get a recommendation from a shooting association and then undergo strict police checks.

Japan has seen “nothing like this for well over 50 to 60 years,” Corey Wallace, an assistant professor at Kanagawa University who focuses on Japanese politics, told AFP.

He said the last similar incident was likely the 1960 assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, the leader of the Japan Socialist Party, who was stabbed by a right-wing youth.

“But two days before an election, of a (man) who is so prominent… it’s really profoundly sad and shocking.”

He noted, too, that Japanese politicians and voters are used to a personal and close-up style of campaigning.

“This could really change.”

© AFP 2022
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