People offer prayers at a makeshift memorial near the scene where the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot while delivering his speech to support the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate during an election campaign in Nara, Saturday, July 9, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Tokyo: Japanese police on Saturday admitted there were “problems” with security for former prime minister Shinzo Abe, as his body arrived at his family home a day after he was assassinated on the campaign trail.

The country was in mourning for Japan’s longest-serving premier and well-wishers gathered to pay their respects, with senior politicians dressed in black arriving at Abe’s Tokyo residence to offer condolences.

But candidates also continued campaigning for the upper house election on Sunday, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida insisting: “We must never allow violence to suppress speech during elections, which are the foundation of democracy.”

The murder of Japan’s best-known politician has rattled the country and sent shockwaves around the world, particularly given the nation’s low levels of violent crime and strict gun laws.

Police are still piecing together details of the man who opened fire at close range on Friday, but the 41-year-old named as Tetsuya Yamaguchi has confessed to killing the former premier, motivated by a belief Abe was linked to an unspecified organisation.

The tearful head of police in the Nara region where Abe was killed admitted on Saturday there were “undeniable” flaws in security for the former leader.

“I believe it is undeniable that there were problems with the guarding and safety measures for former prime minister Abe,” said Tomoaki Onizuka, head of the Nara prefectural police, pledging a “thorough investigation.”

“In all the years since I became a police officer in 1995... there is no greater remorse, no bigger regret than this,” he said.

An attendee holds a tablet computer displaying a photograph of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during an election campaign event in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday, July 9, 2022. Image Credit: Bloomberg


Early on Saturday afternoon, Abe’s body arrived at his home, where mourners like Tetsuya Hamada gathered to offer prayers and flowers.

“I am stunned that things like this still take place in Japan,” he told AFP.

“It makes me sad. How it is possible that this happened in broad daylight?”

Japan’s upper house election will go ahead as planned on Sunday, and Kishida calling on supporters to “help us until the very end.”

But Abe’s death cast a long shadow, and at the scene of his murder, 52-year-old Kayoko Ueda was wiping away tears and described herself as “distraught”.

“I couldn’t believe something like this could actually happen in Japan,” she said.

Yamagami’s motives remain unclear, with police declining so far to identify the organisation he believed Abe had links to.

They are investigating claims Yamagami served in Japan’s navy, and said he appeared to have used a handmade gun.

National broadcaster NHK said he described months of planning for the attack, including an original plot involving explosives that was later shelved in favour of building guns.

Citing police sources, the station said Yamagami also claimed to have scouted out Abe at other speeches.

Security at local campaign events in Japan can be relatively relaxed, but given Abe’s profile, questions have been raised about whether measures to protect him were too lax.

People walk past Melbourne's Flinders Street Station lit up in the colours of Japan on July 9, 2022, in honour of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Image Credit: AFP

‘Unacceptable act’

Dramatic footage of the attack showed Yamaguchi, dressed in a grey shirt and brown trousers, was able to approach Abe from behind without being intercepted, and draw a weapon from a bag.

He appeared to fire two shots, each producing a cloud of smoke.

Doctors who treated Abe said he sustained multiple wounds to his neck and the internal damage from the shooting reached as deep as his heart. He died of blood loss, despite receiving massive transfusions.

International reaction to Abe’s death was swift and stark, with US President Joe Biden saying he was “stunned, outraged and deeply saddened”, and ordering flags on US government buildings to fly at half-mast.

Even regional powers with whom Abe had clashed expressed condolences. Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was “deeply saddened” by the killing, which South Korea’s president called an “unacceptable act”.

Local media reported a wake would be held Monday evening and a funeral on Tuesday for close family and associates.

Abe was the scion of a political family and became the country’s youngest post-war prime minister when he took power for the first time in 2006, aged 52.

His turbulent first term ended in resignation for health reasons, but he returned to power in 2012 and stayed in office until the return of his ulcerative colitis forced a second resignation in 2020.

His hawkish, nationalist views were divisive, particularly his desire to reform the country’s pacifist constitution to recognise the country’s military, and he weathered a series of scandals, including allegations of cronyism.

But he was lauded by others for his economic strategy, dubbed “Abenomics” and his efforts to put Japan firmly on the world stage, including by cultivating close ties with US president Donald Trump.