KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Friday’s shocking assassination of former Japanese 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 European leaders slammed the “despicable” attack.
Tributes poured in as governments expressed sorrow and solidarity with Japan over the loss of Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2020 for health reasons.
Abe, 67, was shot from behind in Nara in western Japan while giving a campaign speech. He was airlifted to a hospital and later pronounced dead.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened” and offered his condolences to Abe’s family.
“This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him,” Biden said. “His vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific will endure. Above all, he cared deeply about the Japanese people and dedicated his life to their service.“
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who hastily returned to Tokyo from campaign events around the country, condemned the “unforgivable act.” He said campaigning as well as Sunday’s elections for parliament’s upper house will proceed.
“The free and fair election, which is the root of democracy, needs to be protected no matter what. We will not be defeated by violence,” Kishida said.
Leaders from Turkey to Singapore condemned the attack. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the French foreign ministry called the shooting “despicable” while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez slammed the ”cowardly attack.”
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 called the shooting “an intolerable criminal act,” his office said.
Iran decried 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.
Public broadcaster NHK aired a dramatic video of Abe giving a speech outside a train station in Nara. He is standing, dressed in a navy blue suit, raising his fist, when two gunshots are heard. The video then shows Abe collapsed on the street.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he was profoundly shocked and saddened by the attack. “The world lost a great leader, and Jordan and I lost a true friend,” the monarch tweeted.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern 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 arrested a suspect at the scene. Under Japanese law, possession of firearms is illegal without a special license. Importing them is also illegal.
Leaders from Germany, Pakistan, Sweden and the Philippines were also among those who gave their condolences, and many countries including Spain and France expressed solidarity with Japan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a day of national mourning on Saturday as a mark of 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 Abe’s, said she was “deeply shocked and devastated” by the “cowardly and vile assassination.”
“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 “Abe spared no effort to push for the progress of Taiwan-Japan relations for many years,” noting his efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic for the Japanese government to donate vaccines to Taiwan.
Italian Premier Mario Draghi offered 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.”
The International Olympic Committee praised Abe for his “vision, determination and dependability” that allowed it to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It said the Olympic flag will be flown at half staff at Olympic House in Lausanne for three days.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump said he hoped Abe’s killer will be dealt with “swiftly and harshly.” “Really BAD NEWS FOR THE WORLD!” he said on his social media platform. He said Abe “was a unifier like no other, but above all, he was a man who loved and cherished his magnificent country, Japan. Shinzo Abe will be greatly missed. There will never be another like him!”
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 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 Japan’s 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.
Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.