Tokyo: Shinzo Abe, a divisive and most polarising figure who was Japan's longest-serving prime minister and remained a powerful and influential politician after leaving office, has died after being shot during a campaign speech. He was 67.
Abe was shot just minutes after he started speaking at the political rally and was pronounced dead hours later at a hospital, medical officials said.
Police arrested the suspected gunman at the scene of the attack, which shocked many in Japan, one of the world's safest nations with some of the strictest gun control laws. The weapon was a double-barrelled device that appeared to be a handmade gun. The killer has since confessed that he was 'frustrated with the former leader.'
Abe, who was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, was perhaps the most complex politician in recent Japanese history, angering both liberals at home and World War II victims in Asia with his hawkish push to revamp the military and his revisionist view that Japan was given an unfair verdict by history for its brutal past.
At the same time, he revitalised Japan's economy, led efforts for the nation to assume a stronger role in Asia and served as a rare beacon of political stability before stepping down two years ago for health reasons.
“He's the most towering political figure in Japan over the past couple of decades,” said Dave Leheny, a political scientist at Waseda University. “He wanted Japan to be respected on the global stage in the way that he felt it deserved. ... He also wanted Japan to not have to keep apologizing for World War II.”
Public broadcaster NHK aired a dramatic video of Abe as he gave a speech outside a train station in the western city of Nara. He was standing, dressed in a navy blue suit, raising his fist, when two gun shots rang out.
Security guards were shown tackling a man in a gray shirt who lay face down on the pavement. After Abe collapsed, he held his chest, his shirt smeared with blood.
The suspect was identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, who had served in Japan's navy for three years in the 2000s.
Abe was a darling of conservatives but reviled by many liberals in Japan. And no policy was more divisive than his cherished, ultimately unsuccessful dream to revise Japan's war-renouncing constitution. His ultra-nationalism also angered the Koreas and China, both wartime victims of Japan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was 'deeply distressed' by the news.
It was he who proposed a new order of like-minded democracies as a counter to China's rise, something Washington and others soon endorsed.
Abe became Japan's youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52.
He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power, bolstering Japan's defense role and its security alliance with the US. He also ramped up patriotic education in schools and raised Japan's international profile.