Shinzo Abe’s body taken to Tokyo as election campaign resumes in shadow of killing | Shinzo Abe

The body of Shinzo Abe has begun its journey back to Tokyo as politicians prepared to resume campaigning for Sunday’s upper house elections in the shadow of the assassination of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

On Saturday morning, a hearse thought to be carrying the body of Abe and accompanied by his wife, Akie, left the hospital in Kashihara where the former prime minister was treated after being shot from behind by a gunman during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara. The hearse is believed to be heading towards his residence in Tokyo, national broadcaster NHK reported.

The Liberal Democratic party (LDP) – the party that Abe once led – and other parties said they would resume campaigning on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s vote, in which they and coalition partner Komeito are expected to cement their majority in parliament. Politicians said they were determined to show the assassination could not stop democracy.

Meanwhile, police are scrambling to establish a motive for the killing, amid shock and anger that a politician could be gunned down in broad daylight in one of the world’s safest societies.

The suspect arrested at the scene of Friday’s shooting was named by police as Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old resident of Nara. Police said he had wanted to kill Abe because he was “dissatisfied” with him over issues unrelated to politics.

The suspect said he bore a grudge against a “specific organization” and believed Abe was part of it, police said, adding that it was not clear if the unnamed organization actually existed. They have declined to name the organization, though several Japanese media outlets described it as a religious group.

Police are investigating whether the suspect acted alone.

Nara prefectural police said they would look into whether security at Abe’s event – where he had been calling on voters to re-elect his LDP colleague Kei Sato – was sufficiently amid criticism that it should have been stronger.

Officials said no threats had been made against Abe, whose death will almost certainly prompt a rethink of the tradition of bringing politicians into close contact with voters.

Meanwhile, tributes have continued to pour in for the leader. On Saturday, three member states of the Quad grouping that includes Japan hailed Abe as a “transformative leader for Japan and for Japanese relations with each one of our countries”.

People offer flowers and prayers on Saturday at the site where Shinzo Abe was shot dead in Nara, western Japan
People offer prayers on Saturday at the site where Shinzo Abe was shot dead in Nara, western Japan. Photograph: Jiji Press / EPA

“He also played a formative role in the founding of the Quad partnership, and worked tirelessly to advance a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Joe Biden, Anthony Albanese and Narendra Modi in a joint statement from the US, Australian and Indian leaders.

“Our hearts are with the people of Japan – and Prime Minister Kishida – in this moment of grief. We will honor Prime Minister Abe’s memory by redoubling our work towards a peaceful and prosperous region. ”

Even regional powers with whom Abe had clashed expressed condolences. South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, called the killing an “unacceptable act” and the Chinese embassy in Japan praised Abe’s “contribution to the improvement and development” of ties.

Separately, Albanese said landmarks across Australia would be lit up in red and white in recognition of Japan’s loss. Biden – who earlier said he was “stunned, outraged and deeply saddened” – has ordered flags on US government buildings to fly at half-mast.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said he was deeply saddened by a killing that “has profoundly shocked Japanese society”.

“[Abe] will be remembered as a staunch defender of multilateralism, respected leader, and supporter of the United Nations, ”he said.

On Saturday in Nara, an ancient capital in the west known for its Buddhist temples and free-roaming deer, a steady stream of mourners came to remember their former leader, a man who was easily the country’s most recognizable politician.

People queue up to offer flowers and pray at the site where Shinzo Abe was shot
Though a divisive leader politically, Shinzo Abe was easily Japan’s most recognizable politician.
Photograph: Issei Kato / Reuters

Alone and in pairs, they stepped forward to lay flowers, bottles of sports drink, slices of watermelon wrapped in cellophane, and bags of sweets. They bowed and clasped their hands in prayer; some shed tears and lowered their heads again as they turned towards banks of TV cameras.

“I just could not sit back and do nothing. I had to come, ”said Nara resident Sachie Nagafuji, 54, visiting the scene with his son.

Abe was a divisive leader, adored by conservatives who had tired of decades of official soul-searching over Japan’s wartime conduct but loathed by progressives who watched on with horror as he used his party’s comfortable majority in parliament to loosen some of the legal shackles on the military, known as the self-defense forces.

Among his admirers were Rami Miyamoto, a 23-year-old company employee who had stopped to watch Abe’s speech on the way to a work meeting. “I’m in a state of shock,” she said. I followed Abe’s career as prime minister and admired what he was trying to do for Japan. I’ll remember him as someone who faced huge challenges but always came back and carried on. I will never forgive the person who did this. ”

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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