NARA, Japan, July 8 (Reuters) – Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was in grave condition on Friday after being shot while campaigning for a parliamentary election, with public broadcaster NHK saying a man with what appeared to be a homemade gun opened fired.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the shooting in the western city of Nara in the “strongest terms”.
Japanese people and world leaders expressed shock at the assassination attempt, an extremely rare attack in Japan that its political parties condemned.
Struggling to keep emotions in check, Kishida said Abe, 67, was in grave condition and the assault on him during the campaign for Sunday’s upper house election was an unacceptable attack on the foundation of Japan’s democracy.
“Everything that can be done is being done to revive him. I’m praying from the depths of my heart that his life will be saved,” Kishida told reporters. He said he was not aware of any motive for the “absolutely unforgivable” attack.
A fire department official said earlier that Abe appeared to be in a state of cardiac arrest when airlifted to hospital.
Police said a 41-year-old man suspected of carrying out the shooting had been arrested. NHK quoted the suspect, identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, as telling police he was dissatisfied with Abe and wanted to kill him.
Abe was making a campaign speech outside a train station when two shots rang out at about 11:30 a.m. (0230 GMT). Security officials were then seen tackling a man in a grey T-shirt and beige trousers.
“There was a loud bang and then smoke,” businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who was at the scene, told Reuters, adding that the gun was the size of a television camera.
“The first shot, no one knew what was going on, but after the second shot, what looked like special police tackled him.”
RARE POLITICAL ATTACK
Kyodo published a photograph of Abe lying face-up on the street by a guardrail, blood on his white shirt. People were crowded around him, one administering heart massage.
Media reported that Abe was wounded in the chest and neck area. An official of Abe’s faction of the ruling party said he was receiving transfusions, NHK said.
Political violence is rare in Japan, a country with strict gun regulations.
In 2007 the mayor of Nagasaki was shot and killed by a yakuza gangster. The head of the Japan Socialist Party was assassinated during a speech in 1960 by a right-wing youth with a samurai short sword.