TOKYO (AP/WTVO) — Japan’s NHK public television says former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died after being shot during a campaign speech Friday
The broadcaster aired footage showing Abe, 67, collapsed on the street, with several security guards running toward him. Abe was holding his chest when he collapsed, with his shirt smeared with blood. NHK says Abe was rushed to a hospital.
Witnesses reported hearing gunshots in the apparent attack in Nara. He was standing while making an election campaign speech ahead of Sunday’s election for the parliament’s upper house.
Police arrested a male suspect at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder, NHK said.
Abe was reported to be in critical condition suffering from heart failure while receiving emergency treatment at the Nara Medical University hospital.
The attack was a shock in a country that’s one of the world’s safest and with some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere.
The term heart failure means the heart cannot sufficiently pump blood and supply necessary oxygen to the rest of the body. In Japan, officials sometimes use the term to describe situations where victims are no longer alive but before a formal declaration of death has been made.
Abe is Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, having served two separate terms, from 2006 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2020. Both Abe’s grandfather and great-uncle previously served as Japan’s prime minister, from 1957 to 1960 and from 1964 to 1972, respectively.
Abe announced his resignation as prime minister in August 2020, citing ongoing issues with ulcerative colitis. He was succeeded as prime minister by his former chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide, who served through 2021.
Among his many notable policies, the conservative former PM is known for his “Abenomics” economic policies, which were put in place in 2013 to invigorate Japan’s economy. The policies remain controversial as many, including current Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, believe their increased government spending didn’t live up to intended benefit for everyday workers.
Upon his 2020 resignation, Abe told reporters 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.
That last goal was a big reason he was such a divisive figure.
His ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China, and his push to normalize Japan’s defense posture angered many Japanese. Abe failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution because of poor public support.
In 2013, then-Prime Minister Abe raised eyebrows after saying he’d walk back some of the language in Japan’s 1993 formal acknowledgement that women were raped and enslaved by the Japanese military during World War II. At that time, Abe said he intended to revise the acknowledgement because there was no evidence the women had acted against their will.
Supporters of Abe said that his legacy was a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship that was meant to bolster Japan’s defense capability. But Abe made enemies too by forcing his defense goals and other contentious issues through parliament, despite strong public opposition.
Among his fans are former U.S. Pres. Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. During a 2019 visit to Tokyo, Bannon praised Abe, calling him “Trump before Trump.”
His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military and bigger role in international affairs.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel expressed sadness and shock at the shooting. “Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the U.S. The U.S. Government and American people are praying for the well-being of Abe-san, his family, & people of Japan,” he said on Twitter.
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