NARA, Japan (AP) — Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a divisive arch-conservative and one of his nation’s most powerful and influential figures, has died after being shot during a campaign speech Friday in western Japan, hospital officials said.
Abe, 67, was shot from behind minutes after he started his speech in Nara. He was airlifted to a hospital for emergency treatment but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was later pronounced dead despite emergency treatment that included massive blood transfusions, hospital officials said.
Police arrested the suspected gunman at the scene of an attack that shocked many in Japan, which is one of the world’s safest nations and has some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Cabinet ministers hastily returned to Tokyo from campaign events around the country after the shooting, which he called “dastardly and barbaric.”
Nara Medical University emergency department chief Hidetada Fukushima said Abe suffered major damage to his heart in addition to two neck wounds that damaged an artery, causing extensive bleeding. He was in a state of cardio and pulmonary arrest when he arrived at the hospital and never regained his vital signs, Fukushima said.
Abe was Japan’s longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2020.
Public television NHK aired a dramatic video of Abe giving a speech outside a train station in the western city of Nara. He is standing, dressed in a navy blue suit, raising his fist, when two gunshots are heard. The video then shows Abe collapsed on the street, with security guards running toward him. He holds his chest, his shirt smeared with blood.
In the next moment, security guards leap on top of a man in gray shirt who lies face down on the pavement. A double-barreled device that appeared to be a handmade gun is seen on the ground.
Nara prefectural police confirmed the arrest of Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, on suspicion of attempted murder. NHK reported that the suspect served in the Maritime Self-Defense Force for three years in the 2000s.
Other videos from the scene showed campaign officials surrounding Abe. The former leader was still highly influential in the governing Liberal Democratic Party and headed its largest faction, Seiwakai. Elections for Japan’s upper house, the less powerful chamber of its parliament, are Sunday.
“I use the harshest words to condemn (the act),” Kishida said as he struggled to control his emotions. He said the government planned to review the security situation, but added that Abe had the highest protection.
Opposition leaders condemned the attack as a challenge to Japan’s democracy. In Tokyo, people stopped on the street to grab extra editions of newspapers or watch TV coverage of the shooting.
When he resigned as prime minister, Abe said he had a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager.
He told reporters at the time that it was “gut wrenching” to leave many of his goals unfinished. He spoke of his failure to resolve the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia and a revision of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.