Japan’s ex-PM shot during stump, suspect held; Govts express shock and dismay
Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe died in hospital on Friday hours after being shot at a political campaign event Friday, in an attack condemned as “absolutely unforgivable.”
The death was also reported by other broadcasters as well as the Japanese news agencies Jiji and Kyodo.
Malacañang said it was “shocked and dismayed” by the attack, extending its condolences “to the Japanese people and the family” of the country’s longest-serving premier after he passed away.
“It is with profound sadness that we learn of the passing of former PM Abe Shinzo,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, echoing an earlier message posted by Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo on his Twitter account.
“We express our deepest condolences to the Japanese government and people on his tragic death. We send our most heartfelt sympathy to Madame Akie Abe and their family. We pray for their comfort in this most difficult time,” it added.
“Mr. Abe was greatly admired by many Filipinos. We thank him for his key role in the strengthening of Philippines-Japan relations and for establishing a very deep bond of friendship with our country. Mr. Abe will be very much missed and always remembered,” the DFA said.
Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin G. Romualdez also extended his deepest condolences and sympathies to the family of Abe, saying: “The world has lost a kind and decent man, a great leader, and a statesman.”
“I join the country of Japan and the Filipino nation in mourning the death of the beloved leader,” Romualdez said in a statement. “We send our collective wish across the sea that justice is served to his family and to the Japanese people.”
“Shinzo Abe is a dear friend of the Filipino people, and we are saddened by this dastardly attack on such a peaceful man. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, and the people of Japan.”
Former President Rodrigo Duterte and his wife Honeylet Avanceña “are deeply saddened by the untimely passing” of Abe, said former presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar on Twitter.
“Abe was a good and loyal friend, a staunch supporter of my administration, and a strong ally of the nation. As the world mourns the loss of this great man, we remember him for his compassionate service and remarkable leadership. Indeed, one of the most influential world leaders of our time,” Andanar quoted Duterte as saying.
The assassination of the country’s best-known politician comes despite Japan’s strict gun laws and with campaigning underway ahead of upper house elections on Sunday.
Earlier Prime Minister Fumio Kishida abandoned the campaign trail and flew to Tokyo by helicopter where he addressed reporters in a voice that wavered with emotion.
“Former prime minister Shinzo Abe was shot in Nara, and I have been informed he is in a very grave condition,” he said just before Abe died.
“I pray that former prime minister Abe will survive,” he added, condemning “a barbaric act during election campaigning, which is the foundation of democracy.”
“It is absolutely unforgivable. I condemn this act in the strongest terms.”
The attack came before noon in the country’s western region of Nara, where Abe, 67, had been delivering a stump speech with security present, but spectators were able to approach him easily.
Footage broadcast by NHK showed him standing on a stage when a man dressed in a grey shirt and brown trousers begins approaching from behind, before drawing something from a bag and firing.
At least two shots appear to be fired, each producing a cloud of smoke.
As spectators and reporters ducked, a man was shown being tackled to the ground by security. He was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, reports said.
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 added.
“After the second shot, people surrounded him and gave him cardiac massage.”
He was reportedly initially responsive but subsequently lost consciousness.
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.
Kishida said no decision had been made on the election, though several parties announced their senior members would halt campaigning in the wake of the attack.
The attack prompted international shock.
“This is a very, very sad moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at a G20 meeting in Bali, saying the United States was “deeply saddened and deeply concerned.”
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha was “very shocked” at Abe’s shooting, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply distressed” by the news.
Earlier, US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said he was “saddened and shocked.”
“Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and an unwavering ally of the United States,” he said in a statement.
European Council president Charles Michel said he was “shocked and saddened by (the) cowardly attack.”
Abe was “a true friend, fierce defender of multilateral order and democratic values,” Michel tweeted.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “deeply shocked.”
The Chinese foreign ministry said it was shocked by the shooting.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had announced his intention to resign over the latest scandal, said he was appalled by the shooting.
“Utterly appalled and saddened to hear about the despicable attack on Shinzo Abe,” he tweeted.
The Russian embassy in Japan condemned the attack as “barbaric.”
The French embassy in Japan expressed concern over the “hateful” attack.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described Abe as “a good friend of Singapore”.
“I am deeply shocked to learn that former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was shot in Nara Prefecture this morning. This is a senseless act of violence,” he said in a Facebook post.
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 is a hawkish conservative who pushed for the revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution to recognize the country’s military and has stayed a prominent political figure even after his resignation.
Under Abe’s rule, Japan went back on its 1993 Kono Statement that acknowledged the Japanese military’s involvement in forcing women from Asian countries, including the Philippines, to work in military brothels during World War II. This strained Japanese relations with China and South Korea.
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 license is a long and complicated process 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, said.
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.”
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