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Japan’s longest-serving leader Shinzo Abe was assassinated in a street on Friday by a gunman who opened fire as he delivered a campaign speech.
The attack that stunned the nation, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, and prompted tributes to the former prime minister from around the world.
The 67-year-old collapsed bleeding at the scene, in the Japanese city of Nara, and was airlifted to a nearby hospital but was later pronounced dead.
Doctors said he suffered major damage to his heart, along with two neck wounds that damaged an artery.
Police at the shooting scene in Nara arrested Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, a former member of Japan’s navy, on suspicion of murder. Police said he used a gun that was obviously homemade – about 15 inches (38 centimetres) long – and they confiscated similar weapons and his personal computer when they raided his nearby one-room apartment.
Dramatic video from state broadcaster NHK showed Mr Abe standing and giving a speech outside a train station in Nara, western Japan, ahead of parliamentary elections on Sunday.
As he raised his fist to make a point, two gunshots rang out, and he collapsed holding his chest, his shirt smeared with blood as security guards run toward him. Guards then leapt onto the gunman, who was face down on the pavement, and a double-barrelled weapon was seen nearby.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hastily returned to Tokyo from campaign events after the shooting, which he called “dastardly and barbaric”. He pledged that the election would go on as planned.
Even though he left office in 2020, Mr Abe was still highly influential in the governing Liberal Democratic Party even though his ultra-nationalism made him a divisive figure to many.
Kenta Izumi, head of the top opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, called it “an act of terrorism” and said it “tried to quash the freedom of speech ... actually causing a situation where (Mr Abe’s) speech can never be heard again”.
In Tokyo, people stopped on the street to grab extra editions of newspapers or watch TV coverage of the shooting. Flowers were placed at the shooting scene in Nara.
When he resigned as prime minister, Mr Abe blamed a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager. He said then it was difficult to leave many of his goals unfinished, especially 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 ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China, and his push to create what he saw as a more normal defence posture angered many Japanese. Mr Abe failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the US-drafted pacifist constitution because of poor public support.
Tributes to Mr Abe poured in from world leaders, with many expressing shock and sorrow. US president Joe Biden praised him for “his vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific will endure. Above all, he cared deeply about the Japanese people and dedicated his life to their service”.
Biden, who is dealing with summer of mass shootings in the US, also said “gun violence always leaves a deep scar on the communities that are affected by it”.
The queen said she was “deeply saddened,” adding: “I wish to convey my deepest sympathy and condolences to his family and to the people of Japan at this difficult time.”
Japan is particularly known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, it had only 10 gun-related criminal cases last year, resulting in one death and four injuries, according to police. Eight of those cases were gang-related. Tokyo had no gun incidents, injuries or deaths in the same year, although 61 guns were seized.
Mr Abe was proud of his work to strengthen Japan’s security alliance with the U.S. and shepherding the first visit by a serving US president to the atom-bombed city of Hiroshima. He also helped Tokyo gain the right to host the 2020 Olympics by pledging that a disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant was “under control” when it was not.
He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52, but his stint abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health. When he returned to office in 2012, Mr Abe vowed to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.
He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power, bolstering Japan’s defence role and capability and its security alliance with the US. He also stepped up patriotic education at schools and raised Japan’s international profile.
Agencies contributed to this report