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Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is shot and killed

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Japan's former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has died after being shot at a campaign event.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

His death was announced by the country's public broadcaster, NHK. Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister. He left office in 2020. But his leadership has had a lasting impact on Japanese politics. And his killing, a rare act of gun violence, has stunned the nation.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Seoul to fill us in. Anthony, where and how did this happen?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, Abe was on the street in western Japan's Nara city. And he was campaigning for a candidate ahead of parliamentary upper house elections on Sunday. And you can see him in video footage speaking through a microphone to the crowd. And then you hear what sounds like two gunshots ringing out. Pictures show him lying on the ground with blood on his shirt. He was apparently hit in the back. Security agents then tackled the suspect. And police arrested him. Police have identified that man as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, who'd formerly served in Japan's military. Pictures show he appeared to be carrying some sort of improvised firearm. It looked like a double-barreled shotgun held together with black tape. Abe was rushed to the hospital. Doctors tried to save him. Reports that he had died came out just before about 6 p.m. local time.

MARTINEZ: Now, how has Japan and the rest of the world actually reacted?

KUHN: Mostly with shock and horror. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida flew back from the campaign trail. All the candidates put their campaigning on hold. And looking very distraught, Kishida had this to say to reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER FUMIO KISHIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KUHN: "I'm not aware of the background of this act, but it took place during an election," he said, "which makes it an attack on the core of democracy. It is a contemptible act of barbarism and cannot be tolerated. I condemn it in the strongest words." A spokesman said that the White House is also shocked and saddened by the attack. They're monitoring reports and keeping their thoughts with Abe's family and the people of Japan.

MARTINEZ: Anthony, why is Abe still important on the Japanese political scene even after stepping down?

KUHN: Even after he stepped down, he remained the head of the largest faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for most of the past seven decades. And the current Prime Minister, Kishida, who previously served as Abe's foreign minister, has been struggling to emerge from his ex-boss' shadow, even as he tried to keep Abe and his faction on his side. Abe's successors, including Kishida, have largely stuck to Abe's conservative policies, strengthening Japan's military, tightening its alliance with the U.S., taking a harder line on China, trying to keep the economy growing despite its aging, shrinking population.

Abe's message was that Japan is back, both from two decades of economic stagnation and also the earlier stigma of its defeat in World War II. A lot of people do not like what Abe did. And he didn't achieve everything he wanted. But I think a lot of people would say that he articulated a clear vision for the country. And he managed to actually shift Japan's policies.

MARTINEZ: We mentioned that political and street violence in Japan are rare. Why is that?

KUHN: There are very strict gun laws. There are very few gun deaths every year. Handguns are outlawed. Japan saw political violence in the 1960s, when there were street clashes between the left and right. But since then, there's been sort of a consensus that political sparring doesn't get physical. And it's kept behind closed doors in order to maintain a sort of calm facade.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn joining us from Seoul, telling us about the death of former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. Anthony, thanks.

KUHN: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.