Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Former Prime Minister, Is Assassinated

TOKYO — Shinzo Abe, a former Japanese prime minister, died after he was shot during a campaign rally on Friday, sending shockwaves through a country unused to gun violence.

Police arrested a 41-year-old man who approached Mr Abe from behind as he was delivering a speech in the city of Nara and shot him twice with what appeared to be an improvised firearm. A doctor who treated Mr Abe said he had gunshot wounds near the base of his neck and a bullet pierced his heart.

Mr Abe, 67, was the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history and remained powerful even after resigning in 2020. During his tenure, he pushed to strengthen the nation’s military, increased cooperation with US forces, and made Tokyo a more muscular force in international diplomacy.

As a testament to his influence, condolences and tributes poured in from many nations, including the allies Mr. Abe cultivated: India, Australia, Britain and most notably the United States


Photos: Shinzo Abe, former Japanese Prime Minister, is assassinated

The shooting of the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history has shocked the nation

Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie Abe, arrived in the city of Nara in western Japan by train before heading to Nara Medical University Hospital, where her husband was taken.

Philip Fong/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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“The United States has lost a trusted partner and an outspoken advocate for our shared ideals,” said US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel.

India has declared a national day of mourning. Australia’s Prime Minister described Mr Abe’s death as devastating.

The bloodshed unfolded at a campaign speech such as Mr. Abe had delivered to the thousands during his nearly three decades as MP. He was visiting Nara, in western Japan near Osaka, to deliver a street speech endorsing a ruling party candidate in Sunday’s elections to the upper house of parliament. The city, which was the capital of Japan in the eighth century, is known for its temples and shrines and has a population of about 350,000.

Security was low, as is almost always the case at such events in Japan. Even when Mr. Abe was prime minister, anyone could approach him during campaign speeches without being checked for guns.

Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested near the shooting range in Nara, Japan on Friday.


Photo:

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/via REUTERS

The man who approached that day, police said, was Tetsuya Yamagami, who lives in a Nara apartment near the shooting range. A person by that name served in the Japanese Navy, known as the Maritime Self-Defense Force, from 2002 to 2005, according to the Defense Ministry.

The attacker was apparently carrying a homemade weapon. Video footage taken after the shooting showed a device on the ground that looked like two metal pipes tied together with tape.

At around 11:30 am, Mr. Abe began his blunt speech. Shortly thereafter, two loud pops sounded, like the sound of fireworks. The authorities quickly pinned Mr. Yamagami to the ground and arrested him. But it was too late. Mr Abe had fallen, sprawled on the ground, and blood was streaming through his white shirt.

A helicopter took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:03 p.m. local time.

Police said Mr Yamagami told them he believed Mr Abe had ties to an unspecified group against which Mr Yamagami held a grudge. It was not known if the suspect had a lawyer. Later Friday, police carried an object from his apartment building, which they described as explosives.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the election campaign, in which the ruling coalition is expected to retain control of the government, will resume on Saturday. He said it would show that Japan’s freedoms could not be undermined by violence.

“Free and fair elections, which are the basis of democracy, must be defended at all costs,” he said.

The shooting dates back more than a century to two Japanese leaders killed by assassins, former Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito in 1909 and Prime Minister Takashi Hara in 1921. These prime ministers helped restore Japan as a modern state with a powerful power after centuries of feudalism establish military and a multi-party constitutional system.

Mr. Abe’s influence in the early 21st century was just as great. In nearly nine years as prime minister – first in a short term from 2006 to 2007 and then from December 2012 to September 2020 – he increased Japan’s presence on the world stage and lifted restrictions on its military.

He tried unsuccessfully to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, adopted when the country was occupied by US forces after World War II. But he pushed through a de facto revision with a 2015 law that allowed Japan to work more closely with the US on regional conflicts.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Mr. Abe quickly flew to New York to present Mr. Trump with a Japanese golf club. The two developed close relationships, including on the golf course.

The tributes from the US, India and Australia were notable because it was under Mr Abe’s leadership that these three countries joined Japan in the so-called Quad Group, which is trying to stem China’s rise in the region. It was Mr. Abe who coined the phrase now widely used to describe the Quad’s goal: a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

President Biden on Friday called Mr Abe a supporter of the US-Japan alliance. “His vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific will endure,” Biden said.

After leaving office, Mr Abe proved to be one of the toughest political survivors, beating back health problems again to become leader of the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

He was the most powerful supporter of Mr. Kishida’s government and often pushed it in a hawkish direction. Referring to North Korea, Mr Abe said Japan needs the ability to strike enemy missile bases to forestall attacks on Japan.

Earlier this year, he called on the US to make it clear that it would provide military support to Taiwan, a democratically self-governing island, if China carried out its threats of invasion. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Biden did just that on a trip to Tokyo.

Mr. Abe also tried, with mixed success, to revive Japan’s long-ailing economy with his “Abenomics” policies, including radical monetary easing and changes to encourage companies to listen more to their shareholders.

“Mr. Abe has made significant achievements in pulling Japan out of longstanding deflation and realizing sustained economic growth,” the Bank of Japan said‘s

Governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, who was selected by Mr. Abe in 2013.

Mr Abe could be polarizing, and critics on the left have said his policies are exacerbating inequality. He was frequently attacked by opposition parties over scandals, including a government land deal deemed favorable for an Abe friend. After leaving office, he apologized for what he felt was improper accounting related to a party for supporters who were in Tokyo to attend a government cherry blossom viewing party.

His tenure was also marred by frequent clashes with South Korea, the US’ other key ally in the region, often over historical issues, where Mr Abe tended to think Japan had already apologized enough.

Critics on the right, fewer in number, believed Mr Abe stuck too closely to the nation’s centrist political consensus.

After the assassination, political differences dissolved and the nation was virtually united in horror at the kind of violence it has seldom witnessed.

“This is a barbaric act that must not be allowed,” said Kenta Izumi, leader of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party. “That shouldn’t happen in a democracy like ours.”

Japanese law generally limits gun ownership to the police and military. It also allows gun licenses for hunting and sport shooting, but only after rigorous background checks.

The last known case of a gun attack on a prominent politician in Japan was in 2007, when the mayor of Nagasaki was shot dead by a member of a right-wing group.

Friday’s shooting “was such a shock,” said Shuma Ikeda, a 30-year-old office worker. “I never thought something like this would happen in the middle of the day in Japan.”

Kazuya Funatsu, a 29-year-old aide, said he wanted to know how the suspect got hold of a gun.

“I was in Europe until a month ago and felt that Japan’s peace would not last forever, but I never thought that such a big incident would happen so soon,” Mr. Funatsu said.

write to Alastair Gale at alastair.gale@wsj.com and Miho Inada at miho.inada@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/shinzo-abe-former-japanese-prime-minister-assassinated-11657250233 Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Former Prime Minister, Is Assassinated

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