Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is in a critical condition after he was rushed to hospital after being shot while campaigning in the city of Nara.
“Doctors are doing everything they can. At this moment, I am hoping and praying that former prime minister Abe will survive this,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday afternoon.
It followed earlier reports from an official from the Nara City Fire Department, who told CNN that Mr Abe was in cardiac arrest after collapsing after being shot in the chest at about 11.30am on Friday (local time).
But Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, later cited police sources as saying the former long-serving PM was conscious and responsive while being transported.
An aerial photo from Nara, in Japan’s west, showed Mr Abe, 67, being taken to the hospital via helicopter. He could be seen lying on a stretcher, surrounded by several people.
Mr Kishida said the shooting was “barbaric and malicious” and such violence could not be tolerated.
“The government will anticipate every possible situation and deliver necessary responses,” he said.
“At this moment, doctors are working very hard to save Mr Abe.”
Earlier, footage aired by NHK captured the moments before and immediate after Mr Abe’s collapse.
It showed him on the street speaking to a small crowd outside a train station. A loud bang is heard, the camera shakes and there is shouting.
Immediately after, police can be seen wrestling a man to the ground.
Another video shows smoke in the air just after Mr Abe collapsed.
An NHK reporter on the scene said they heard two consecutive bangs during Mr Abe’s speech.
Police quickly arrested a man on suspicion of attempted murder and retrieved a homemade gun.
The 41-year old suspect has been identified as Tetsuya Yamagami. His motive remains unknown.
Mr Abe served two terms as prime minister to become Japan’s longest-serving premier before stepping down in 2020 citing ill health. He has remained a dominant presence over the ruling Liberal Democratic party, controlling one of its major factions.
Mr Kishida, who is his protege, faces an upper house election on Sunday in which analysts said he hoped to emerge from Mr Abe’s shadow and define his premiership.
Mr Kishida said he was no longer thinking about politics, following Friday’s shooting.
“Cabinet members will all return to Tokyo. Once the Cabinet members are convened, we will look at this incident and the current situation,” he said.
“On the election schedules, there are no decisions made at this moment.”
Mr Abe is best known for his signature Abenomics policy, which featured bold monetary easing and fiscal spending.
He also bolstered Japan’s defence spending after years of decline and expanded the military’s ability to project power abroad.
In a historic shift in 2014, his government reinterpreted the postwar, pacifist constitution to allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War II.
The following year, legislation ended a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or defending a friendly country under attack.
Mr Abe, however, did not achieve his long-held goal of revising the US-drafted constitution by writing the Self-Defence Forces, as Japan’s military is known, into the pacifist Article 9.
He was instrumental in winning the 2020 Olympic Games for Tokyo, cherishing a wish to preside over the global event. They were eventually postponed by a year to 2021 because of the pandemic.
Mr Abe first took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since WWII. After a year plagued by political scandals, voter outrage at lost pension records, and an election drubbing for his ruling party, he quit citing ill health.
He became prime minister again in 2012.
Mr Abe hails from a wealthy political family that included a foreign minister father and a great-uncle who served as premier.