“I learned that he was in a very serious condition (…). It is a barbaric act in the middle of the electoral campaign, which is the basis of democracy, and it is absolutely unforgivable”, denounced Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a press conference in the early afternoon.

Visibly very moved, Mr. Kishida said he “prayed” for the survival of Mr. Abe, his former political mentor and of whom he had been foreign minister from 2012 to 2017.

According to state broadcaster NHK, Mr Abe was taken to hospital and appeared to be in cardio-respiratory arrest – a term used in Japan indicating no signs of life, and usually preceding an official death certificate.

The 67-year-old former chief executive was giving a late morning speech near a train station in Nara during a campaign rally ahead of Sunday’s senatorial elections when gunshots rang out heard, national broadcaster NHK and Kyodo news agency said.

– A suspect arrested –

A man in his 40s has been disarmed and arrested for attempted murder, according to NHK, citing police sources.

According to several local media, the suspect is a 41-year-old Japanese man who once belonged to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Japanese Navy.

In NHK footage showing the moment of the attack, Mr Abe is seen standing on a podium, then a loud bang is heard and smoke billows. While the spectators surprised by the detonation bend down, several people tackle another one to the ground.

Mr Abe “was giving a speech and a man came up from behind”, a young woman who was at the scene told NHK.

“The first shot sounded like a toy. It didn’t drop and there was a big bang. The second shot was more visible, you could see the spark and smoke,” he said. -she adds.

“After the second shot, people surrounded him and gave him a heart massage,” she testified.

Mr Abe collapsed and was bleeding from the neck, a source from the ruling nationalist right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) told the Jiji news agency.

Local PLD officials said they had received no threat before the attack and that Mr. Abe’s speech had been announced publicly.

– “Very, very sad” –

Former leader of the PLD, Mr. Abe was the Japanese Prime Minister to have remained in power the longest. He was in office in 2006 for a year, then again from 2012 to 2020, when he was forced to resign for health reasons.

Reactions poured in from around the world after the attack.

“It’s a very, very sad moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday, adding that the United States was “deeply sad and deeply concerned” about the attack.

“Our thoughts, our prayers are with him, with his family, with the Japanese people,” he added.

“Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and a staunch ally of the United States. The American government and people pray for the well-being of Abe-san, his family, and the people of Japan,” the statement said. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel.

European Council President Charles Michel said he was “shocked and saddened” by the “cowardly” attack on Mr Abe, whom he described as a “true friend, fierce defender of the multilateral order and democratic values “.

Japan hasn’t seen anything like it “for more than 50 to 60 years,” Corey Wallace, a lecturer at Kanagawa University and a specialist in Japanese politics, told AFP.

According to him, the last similar incident in Japan was the assassination in 1960 of Inejiro Asanuma, the leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, stabbed by a student close to the extreme right.

“But two days before an election (and a man) so important (…) it is deeply sad and shocking”, he added.

Japan has one of the strictest gun control laws in the world, and the annual number of gun deaths in the country of 125 million people is extremely low.

Obtaining a gun license is a long and complicated process, even for Japanese citizens, who must first obtain a recommendation from a shooting association and then undergo strict police checks.