Assassination of Japan’s Shinzo Abe stuns world leaders

  • A photo of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is displayed on the screen as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador offers his condolences following his death during his daily press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Friday, July 8, 2022.(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Leaders around the world condemned the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday as “despicable,” “cowardly” and “terrorism” while recalling him as a man devoted to peace, security and international cooperation.

Tributes poured in as governments expressed sorrow and solidarity with Japan over the loss of Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2020 for health reasons.

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Abe, 67, was shot from behind in Nara in western Japan while giving a campaign speech. He was airlifted to a hospital and later pronounced dead. The attack was especially shocking in one of the world’s safest countries, where guns are strictly controlled.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened.” He visited the residence of Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. on Friday to offer condolences. He placed a bouquet of flowers on a table set up near a koi pond and wrote in a condolence book that Abe was “a man of peace and judgment.”

“This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him,” Biden said. “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.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who hastily returned to Tokyo from campaign events around the country, condemned the “unforgivable act.” He said campaigning as well as Sunday’s elections for parliament’s upper house will proceed.

“The free and fair election, which is the root of democracy, needs to be protected no matter what. We will not be defeated by violence,” Kishida said.

Biden called Kishida “a very solid guy” and said he did not believe the killing was likely to have “any profound, destabilizing impact on Japanese security or Japanese solidarity.”

Leaders from Turkey to Singapore condemned the attack. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the French foreign ministry called the shooting “despicable,” and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said it was “cowardly.”

The U.N. Security Council stood in silent tribute to Abe after the current council president, Brazil’s U.N. Ambassador Ronaldo Costa Filho, expressed “our sadness and shock at the senseless assassination.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Abe will be remembered “as a staunch defender of multilateralism, respected leader and supporter of the United Nations.” Abe was committed to promoting peace and security, championing U.N. development goals and advocating for universal health coverage, Guterres said, according to his spokesman.

“I have fond memories of meeting Mr. Abe and his wife during their visit to the United Kingdom in 2016,” Queen Elizabeth II said in a written statement. “His love for Japan, and his desire to forge ever-closer bonds with the United Kingdom, were clear.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his “deepest condolences to his family and the people of Japan at this difficult time,” while South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called the shooting “an intolerable criminal act,” his office said.

Iran said it was “an act of terrorism.”

“As a country that has been a victim of terrorism and has lost great leaders to terrorists, we are following the news closely and with concern,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

Public broadcaster NHK aired a dramatic video of Abe giving a speech outside a train station in Nara. He is standing, dressed in a navy blue suit, raising his fist, when two gunshots are heard. The video then shows Abe collapsed on the street.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he was shocked and saddened. “The world lost a great leader, and Jordan and I lost a true friend,” the monarch tweeted.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Abe was one of the first leaders she met after taking office and described him as deeply committed to his role, generous and kind.

“I recall him asking after the recent loss of our pet when I met him, a small gesture but one that speaks to the kind of person he is,” Ardern said. “Events like this shake us all to the core.”

In the NHK video, security guards are seen leaping on top of a man in a gray shirt who lies face down on the pavement. A double-barreled device that appeared to be a handmade gun is seen on the ground.

Police arrested a suspect at the scene. Under Japanese law, possession of firearms is illegal without a special license. Importing them is also illegal.

Leaders from Germany, Pakistan, Sweden and the Philippines were also among those who gave condolences, and many countries including Spain and France expressed solidarity with Japan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a day of national mourning on Saturday as a mark of deepest respect for Abe.

“Mr. Abe made an immense contribution to elevating India-Japan relations to the level of a special strategic and global partnership. Today, whole India mourns with Japan and we stand in solidarity with our Japanese brothers and sisters in this difficult moment,” Modi said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Abe was a “giant on the world stage,” adding that “his legacy was one of global impact, and a profound and positive one for Australia.”

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose time in office from 2005-2021 largely overlapped Abe’s, said she was “deeply shocked and devastated” by the “cowardly and vile assassination.”

Taiwan’s government said “Abe spared no effort to push for the progress of Taiwan-Japan relations for many years,” noting his efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic for the Japanese government to donate vaccines to Taiwan.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi said Italy was embracing Abe’s family, the government and the Japanese people.

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