Japanese former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot on Friday while campaigning in the city of Nara, a government spokesman said, with public broadcaster NHK saying he appeared to have been shot from behind by a man with a shotgun.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said he did not know Abe’s condition. Authorities have arrested a 42-year-old man who appeared to have shot Abe, media reported.
Kyodo news agency and NHK said Abe, 67, appeared to be in a state of cardiac arrest when taken to hospital, after having initially been conscious and responsive.
NHK showed video of Abe making a election campaign speech outside a train station when two shots rang out, after which the view was briefly obscured and then security officials were seen tackling a man on the ground. A puff of smoke behind Abe could be seen in a separate video shown in NHK.
Matsuno told a briefing Abe had been shot at about 11:30 a.m. (0230 GMT).
“Such an act of barbarity cannot be tolerated,” he said.
TBS Television reported that Abe had been shot on the left side of his chest and apparently also in the neck.
Political violence is rare in Japan, a country with strict gun regulations.
Abe served two terms as prime minister to become Japan’s longest-serving premier before stepping down in 2020 citing ill health.
But he has remained a dominant presence over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), controlling one of its major factions.
His protege, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, goes into Sunday’s upper house election hoping, analysts say, to emerge from Abe’s shadow and define his premiership.
Kishida suspended his election campaign after Abe’s shooting and was returning to Tokyo, media reported.
The government said there was no plan to postpone the election.
The ambassador of the United States, Rahm Emanuel, said he was saddened and shocked by the shooting of an outstanding leader and unwavering ally.
“The US government and American people are praying for the well-being of Abe-san, his family, and the people of Japan,” he said in a statement.
YOUNGEST PRIME MINISTER
Abe is best known for his signature “Abenomics” policy featured bold monetary easing and fiscal spending.
He also bolstered defence spending after years of declines and expanded the military’s ability to project power abroad.
In a historic shift in 2014, his government reinterpreted the postwar, pacifist constitution to allow troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.
The following year, legislation ended a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or defending a friendly country under attack.
Abe, however, did not achieve his long-held goal of revising the US-drafted constitution by writing the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan’s military in known, into the pacifist Article 9.
He was instrumental in winning the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo, cherishing a wish to preside over the Games, which were postponed by a year to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abe first took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War Two. After a year plagued by political scandals, voter outrage at lost pension records, and an election drubbing for his ruling party, Abe quit citing ill health.
He became prime minister again in 2012.
Abe hails from a wealthy political family that included a foreign minister father and a grandfather who served as premier.
First elected to parliament in 1993 after his father’s death, Abe rose to national fame by adopting a tough stance toward unpredictable neighbour North Korea in a feud over Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang decades ago.
Though Abe also sought to improve ties with China and South Korea, where bitter wartime memories run deep, he riled both neighbours in 2013 by visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, seen by Beijing and Seoul as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
In later years, Abe refrained from visiting in person and instead sent ritual offerings.