Ex-Japan Leader Abe Assassinated in Shooting That Shocks Nation


TOKYO — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — Japan’s longest-serving premier and a figure of enduring influence — died after being shot at a campaign event Friday in an attack that shocked a nation where political violence and guns are rare. 

Abe, 67, was shot from about 10 feet away with what appeared to be a homemade firearm in the western city of Nara, as he was giving a campaign speech at an outdoor venue for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party ahead of Sunday’s upper house election. Video and images from the scene showed the former premier collapsing to the ground, with blood on his shirt after two loud blasts rang out.

Abe was flown by helicopter to Nara Medical University Hospital, where he had no vital signs upon arrival, Hidetada Fukushima, the doctor who treated Abe, told a news conference. The former premier suffered two gunshot wounds to his neck and injuries to his chest. He was pronounced dead at 5:03 p.m., a little more than five hours after he was shot.

The current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, who served as foreign minister under Abe, denounced the loss of his “good friend” in what he described as an act of “despicable barbarism.” 

“He loved this country and always looked one step ahead of the times,” Kishida said. “He was a great politician who left many achievements in terms of developing the future of the country in various fields. To lose him in such a way is a great sadness.”

The premier said the vote for Sunday would go ahead as planned and his government would do its utmost to ensure security, adding elections were the foundation of democracy. The LDP’s ruling bloc had been expected to keep its majority in the upper house even before the shock. 

Leaders from across the world paid tribute to Abe, who was a defining and sometimes divisive figure for Japan as the country navigated economic stagnation and China’s rise next door. He was a security hawk, a fiscal dove, a defender of Japan’s alliance with the US and an advocate for maintaining the postwar global order. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Abe as “a towering global statesman, an outstanding leader and a remarkable administrator.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Abe an “extraordinary partner” whose death was “profoundly disturbing in and of itself, it’s also such a strong personal loss for so many people.” 

U.S. President Joe Biden called Abe’s death “a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him” and ordered flags at the White House, federal buildings and military bases flown at half-staff ahead of a planned visit to Japan’s embassy in Washington. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose favor Abe sought to gain early on, called the fallen premier a “true friend of mine and, much more importantly, America.” 

While some nationalists in China cheered Abe’s death, the Chinese government expressed “shock” and offered its condolences for a leader whom it said had made contributions to improving ties between the two rivals. 

The initial market reaction to the news that Abe had been shot was a rush to haven assets. The yen climbed alongside Treasuries, with the currency rising as much as 0.5% against the dollar. 

The person suspected of shooting Abe was identified by police as Tetsuya Yamagami, a local 41-year-old veteran of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, currently unemployed. He told police he held a grudge against a “certain group,” and he intended to kill Abe because he believed the former premier had ties to the group, Nara Prefectural Police officials said at a news conference.

Separately, NHK reported that investigators removed explosives from the suspect’s home after a search. 

The incident was one of Japan’s highest profile acts of political violence since World War Two. World leaders extended condolences for Abe, who spent more time as premier than anyone since Japan established the office in the 1880s.

“He was the single most powerful politician in Japan. He clearly had the ability to set the political agenda in ways that others — including Kishida — do not,” said Tobias Harris, a senior fellow for Asia at the American Progress think tank who has written a biography of Abe.

Japan is a country with some of the strictest gun laws among leading economies and shootings are rare. But political violence still occurs from time to time: In 2007, Itcho Ito, the mayor of Nagasaki, died after being shot twice by a member of an organized crime gang. The last time a current or former Japanese prime minister was shot was 90 years ago. 

The weapon used in the attack on Abe was a handmade, 15-inch-long gun, according to Nara police. Video from the scene showed what appeared to be two long tubes wrapped together with black tape on the ground at the scene. Police found several more handmade guns at the suspect’s home. 

Abe’s record-setting run brought stability to Japan after a revolving door of six administrations, including a previous stint where he served as leader. Abe helped Japan escape from a cycle of deflation, endured a Trump administration that questioned the nation’s only military alliance, and worked to improve ties with its biggest trading partner China, which were at their most hostile in decades when he took office.

The first Japanese premier born after the country’s defeat in World War II — and a vocal defender of its postwar record — Abe sought to end apologies for past imperialism and reinterpreted the country’s pacifist constitution to loosen restrictions on the military. He nonetheless managed to stabilize relations with China, where a wave of anti-Japanese protests had raged in the weeks before his second election as leader.

Abe also devoted energy to trying to resolve a World War II territorial dispute with Russia, which has simmered for seven decades, lavishing hospitality on Vladimir Putin, in a policy that was reversed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Abe is perhaps best known for his plans to revive Japan’s flagging economy through unprecedented monetary easing and regulatory reform that was eventually labeled “Abenomics.” He has been seen as a steady hand who has consolidated power during his record run and been able to overcome scandals, including one that came to light in 2017 over questionable government land allocations for schools provided to associates of Abe and his wife, Akie.

Longtime Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda, a key partner in executing Abe’s economic vision, said he felt “very sorry” for his former colleague’s passing. 

“Former Prime Minister Abe has achieved many results toward the end of prolonged deflation and sustainable economic growth,” Kuroda said. “I pay sincere tribute to his strong leadership and dedication to our economy.”


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