Japan's Shinzo Abe Assassinated

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Friday's shocking assassination of Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in one of the world's safest countries stunned leaders and drew condemnation, with Iran calling it an "act of terrorism" while Spain slammed the "cowardly attack."

Abe, 67, was shot from behind in Nara in western Japan while giving a campaign speech. He was airlifted to a hospital but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was pronounced dead later at the hospital. Abe was Japan's longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2020 for health reasons.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who hastily returned to Tokyo from campaign events around the country, called the shooting "dastardly and barbaric."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking with the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers at a trilateral meeting in Bali, said Abe's assassination was "profoundly disturbing" and a "personal loss for so many people."

"For the United States, Prime Minister Abe was an extraordinary partner and someone who clearly was a great leader for Japan and the Japanese people," Blinken said, adding that Abe, during his time in office, "brought the relationship between our countries -- the United States and Japan -- to new heights."

Leaders from Turkey to Singapore condemned the attack, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the shooting "despicable."

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his "deepest condolences to his family and the people of Japan at this difficult time."

"This heinous act of violence has no excuse," he added.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's office cited him as saying that the shooting that led to Abe's death is "an intolerable criminal act."

Iran condemned the shooting as "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.

People in Japan could be seen reading extra editions of the Friday paper with Abe's picture large on the front page, or stopping to watch the news on TV.

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

"We are shocked and saddened to hear about the violent attack against former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe," the White House said in a statement shortly afterward.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier expressed her shock about the shooting. She 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 have arrested a suspected gunman at the scene. Under Japanese law, possession of firearms, as well as certain kinds of knives and other weapons, like bowguns, is illegal without a special license. Importing them is also illegal.

Leaders from Germany, Pakistan, Sweden and the Philippines were among those who gave their condolences, and many countries including Spain and France expressed solidarity with Japan. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Saturday as a one-day national mourning as a mark of the 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 one of Australia's closest friends and a "giant on the world stage," adding that "his legacy was one of global impact, and a profound and positive one for Australia. He will be greatly missed."

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose time in office from 2005-2021 largely overlapped with that of former Japanese Shinzo Abe, said she was "deeply shocked and devastated" by the news that he had died of injuries "inflicted in a cowardly and vile assassination hours earlier."

"My first thoughts are with his wife and family," she said in a statement. "I grieve with them. I wish them comfort and support."

Taiwan's government said that "Abe spared no effort to push for the progress of Taiwan-Japan relations for many years," noting Abe's push amid the COVID-19 pandemic for the Japanese government to donate vaccines to Taiwan.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi offered his profound condolences and said Italy was embracing Abe's family, the government and the Japanese people.

"Italy is distraught over the terrible attack against Japan and its free, democratic debate. Abe was a great protagonist of Japanese and international political life in recent decades, thanks to his innovative spirit and reformist vision," Draghi said in a statement.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt noted that Abe was killed "while campaigning for his fellow party members. All politicians should be safe while executing their work for democracy."

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who is president of the Group of 20 nations' foreign ministers meeting in Bali, Indonesia, lamented Abe's "untimely demise" and said he "will always be remembered as a prime example for all."

"It is with great dismay that all of us as participants have just learned that the former Prime Minister of Japan has passed away after the assassination," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said after the summit. "My thoughts, our thoughts here at the G-20 meeting are with his family, with his friends, and it is with great sadness that we also send our greetings to all the citizens of Japan."

In China however, Abe's shooting triggered unfavorable comments from tens of thousands of nationalist citizens on social media.

Some quipped, "Hope he's not OK," while dozens half-jokingly called the shooter "a hero" or "anti-Japan hero." Others said Abe's injuries were a comfort to the souls of people who had died in Japan's invasion of China during World War II.

While not necessarily the view of most Chinese, the posts reflect strong public sentiment -- encouraged by government propaganda -- against right-wing Japanese politicians who question or deny that the military committed atrocities in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian declined to comment. He said China expressed sympathies with Abe's family and that the shooting shouldn't be linked with bilateral relations.