'A towering figure': Fatal shooting of Japan's Shinzo Abe shocks world leaders
An employee distributes extra editions of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reporting the attack on Shinzo Abe on July 8, 2022 in Tokyo. © Eugene Hoshiko, AP

Friday's shocking assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe stunned the world and drew immediate condemnation, with world leaders praising Abe's "global leadership" and slamming a "cowardly attack".

Abe, 67, was shot from behind in Nara in western Japan while giving a campaign speech. He was airlifted to a hospital but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Abe was Japan’s longest-serving leader before stepping down in 2020 for health reasons. Police arrested a suspected gunman at the scene.

"Japan lost a great prime minister who dedicated his life to his country and worked for the stability of our world", French President Emmanuel Macron wrote in a tweet, addressing France's condolences to the Japanese people.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who was on Indonesia’s Bali island for a meeting of G20 foreign ministers, expressed shock and sadness over the attack on the former leader of Japan, a staunch ally of the US.

“Our thoughts, our prayers are with him, with his family, with the people of Japan. This is a very, very sad moment,” he said.

Former US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien paid tribute to Abe as a “towering figure in Japan and the entire Indo-Pacific."

'Global leadership'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Friday hailed Abe's leadership role and said the UK stood with Japan "at this dark and sad time".

"Incredibly sad news about Shinzo Abe. His global leadership through unchartered times will be remembered by many," Johnson tweeted.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was visiting her Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese on Friday in Sydney when they learned the news.

Ardern said she was “deeply shocked”.

“He was one of the first leaders I formally met when I became Prime Minister. He was deeply committed to his role, and also 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. "My thoughts are with his wife and the people of Japan. Events like this shake us all to the core.”

Albanese echoed the sentiments in a tweet: “Shocking news from Japan that former PM Shinzo Abe has been shot. Our thoughts are with his family and the people of Japan at this time.”

Leaders across Asia were stunned.

“Deeply distressed by the attack on my dear friend Abe Shinzo. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, and the people of Japan,” tweeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before calling a day of national mourning for Saturday.

China was “shocked" by the “sudden incident", said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, while Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong slammed it as a “senseless act of violence".

“Mr. Abe is a good friend of Singapore. I had just hosted him to lunch in May, on my visit to Tokyo. My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Abe and his family," Lee said on Facebook.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said he was saddened and shocked. “The government and people of Malaysia are praying for his speedy recovery and for his family to be given strength to endure this tragedy,” he tweeted.

Iran condemned 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.

'Great man and leader'

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on Twitter that she was “shocked by the news that Shinzo Abe was shot. My thoughts are with him and his family.”

Baerbock is due to visit Japan at the weekend to attend a memorial ceremony for the US nuclear attack on Nagasaki and meet with her Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez sent his best wishes to Abe's family and “our forthright condemnation of this cowardly attack. “Spain stands together with the people of Japan in these difficult times," he tweeted.

The Italian government and lawmakers across the political spectrum condemned the shooting, with Premier Mario Draghi’s office expressing solidarity with Abe and the Japanese people.

Former PM Giuseppe Conte, head of the populist 5-Star Movement, called Abe an example of a politician committed to serving his country and offered his solidarity with his family and the Japanese people.

Other former world leaders also condemned the appalling attack on Abe, who was the longest serving prime minister in Japan. He led Japan from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 before stepping down in 2020 due to poor health.

Former US President Donald Trump said the attack on Abe was devastating. He described Abe as a “truly great man and leader” and said he “was a true friend of mine and, much more importantly, America.”

“This is a tremendous blow to the wonderful people of Japan, who loved and admired him so much. We are all praying for Shinzo and his beautiful family!” Trump said on his social media app.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Facebook that “an attack on any democratically elected political leader in the world is an attack on supporters of democracy everywhere."

(FRANCE 24 with AP)