Shinzo Abe's body arrives in Tokyo as Japanese mourn assassinated former prime minister

People queue to pay respects at place where he was shot while campaigning for his Liberal Democratic Party in the city of Nara

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The body of Shinzo Abe was returned to Tokyo on Saturday as mourners gathered in the western city of Nara to pay respects at the place where the former Japanese prime minister was fatally injured by a gunman.

Mourners lowered their heads as a black hearse carrying Abe’s body arrived at his home in Tokyo’s residential area of Shibuya.

The assassination, before Sunday’s parliamentary election, raised questions about the security for the former prime minister.

A hearse carrying the body of former prime minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his home in Tokyo on July 9, 2022. AP Photo

“I'm just shocked that this kind of thing happened in Nara,” Natsumi Niwa, a 50-year-old housewife, said after offering flowers with her 10-year-old son near the scene of the killing at a railway train station.

Hundreds of people queued to leave flowers on a table next to a photo of Abe. Local officials moved some of the offerings to create space as more tributes arrived.

Ms Niwa said Abe, a conservative and architect of the Abenomics policies aimed at reviving the Japanese economy, inspired the name of her son, Masakuni, with his rallying cry of Japan as a “beautiful nation”. “Kuni” means nation in Japanese.

A night vigil will be held on Monday, with Abe's funeral scheduled for Tuesday, attended by close friends, Japanese media said. There was no word of any public memorial service.

Abe was campaigning for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) when he was shot. He was flown to a local hospital but died of blood loss despite emergency treatment including large blood transfusions.

Police arrested a man, a former member of Japan’s navy, at the scene on suspicion of murder. They confiscated the home-made gun and said several others were later found at his home.

Suspect Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, told police he believed Abe was linked to a religious group he blamed for ruining his mother financially and breaking up the family, local media reported, citing police sources. Police have not identified the group.

Abe's death has raised questions about security for public figures in Japan, where politicians commonly make direct appeals to voters in public places during campaigning season.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office after Abe stepped down in 2020, returned to the campaign trail after making an emergency return to Tokyo on Friday.

Abe's killing “heightens the prospect for stronger turnout and greater support for his Liberal Democratic Party”, according to Eurasia Group, a political consultancy based in New York City.

The LDP had already been expected to gain seats before the assassination.

Abe, 67, served twice as prime minister — for exactly one year in 2006-2007 and then from 2012-2020 — stepped on both occasions down citing health reasons.

“His health was improving so I was hoping he would have a third term,” said Tatsuya Futami, 49, in Nara. “He was still young as a politician — it's a great shame.”

James Brady, vice president at advisory firm Teneo, wrote in a note that a strong election performance “could catalyse Kishida to push for Abe's unfulfilled goal of amending Japan's constitution to allow for a stronger role for the military”.

Abe was a leading figure in the creation of the Quad grouping aimed at countering China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The other members, the US, India and Australia, expressed shock at the assassination in a joint statement.

“We will honour Prime Minister Abe's memory by redoubling our work towards a peaceful and prosperous region,” the statement said.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 7:12 AM
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