Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe is said to be in grave condition after he was shot at a political campaign event.
Mr Abe was shot at twice while he was giving a speech in the southern city of Nara on Friday morning.
He immediately collapsed and was rushed to the nearest hospital. Pictures taken at the scene showed him bleeding.
Security officials at the scene tackled the gunman, and the 41-year-old suspect is now in police custody.
In an emotional press conference a few hours later, prime minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that Mr Abe was in a “very grave condition”.
“Currently doctors are doing everything they can,” said Mr Kishida who appeared to be holding back tears, adding that he was “praying from his heart” that Mr Abe would survive.
He also condemned the attack, saying: “It is barbaric and malicious and it cannot be tolerated.”
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency confirmed that Mr Abe had a bullet wound on the right of his neck, and also suffered subcutaneous bleeding under the left part of his chest.
It is unclear if both shots hit him, or if a bullet hit him on the neck and travelled elsewhere.
National broadcaster NHK said Mr Abe was “conscious and responsive” while being transported to the hospital, citing police sources.
But it also quoted a senior member of Mr Abe’s party as saying the 67-year-old’s situation was “worrisome” and that he was getting a blood transfusion.
Ex-Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe had earlier said in a tweet that Mr Abe was in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest. The term is often used before a death is officially confirmed in Japan.
Mr Abe was giving a stump speech for a political candidate in Nara at a road junction when the attack happened.
Eyewitnesses said they saw a man carrying what they described as a large gun and firing twice at Mr Abe from behind.
Security officers detained the attacker, who made no attempt to run, and seized his weapon which was reportedly a handmade gun.
The suspect has been identified as Nara resident Tetsuya Yamagami. Local media reports say he is believed to be a former member of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, Japan’s equivalent of a navy.
Mr Abe’s speech came as part of a campaign for his former party, the Liberal Democratic Party, as upper house elections in Japan are due to take place later this week.
Ministers across the country were later told to return to Tokyo immediately, according to local reports.
The first question many people will be asking is what was the gun used and how did the shooter get hold of it?
The answer appears to be that he may have built it himself. Photographs taken as the suspect was being apprehended show what looks like an improvised, or home-made, double-barrelled shotgun.
Gun violence is very rare in Japan, and guns are extremely difficult to own. Political violence is also extremely rare.
Mr Abe did have a team of security police with him. But it appears the shooter was still able to get to within a few meters of Mr Abe without any sort of check, or barrier.
The shooting of such a prominent figure is profoundly shocking in a country that prides itself on being so safe.
Mr Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, held office in 2006 for a year and then again from 2012 to 2020, before stepping down citing health reasons.
He later revealed that he had suffered a relapse of ulcerative colitis, an intestinal disease.
While he was in office, he was known for his hawkish policies on defence and foreign policy, and has long sought to amend Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution.
He also pushed for an economic policy that came to be known as “Abenomics”, built on monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms.
He was succeeded by his close party ally Yoshihide Suga, who was later replaced by Fumio Kishida.
Incidents of gun violence are rare in Japan, where handguns are banned – and incidents of political violence are almost unheard of.
In 2014, there were just six incidents of gun deaths in Japan, as compared to 33,599 in the US. People have to undergo a strict exam and mental health tests in order to buy a gun – and even then, only shotguns and air rifles are allowed.
Prominent voices across the world have been quick to condemn the incident, with former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd calling it an “attack on supporters of democracy”.
The US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said Mr Abe had been an “outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the US”, adding that the US was “praying” for his well-being. -BBC NEWS