TOKYO — Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot at a campaign event Friday, Japanese officials said, shocking a nation where firearms laws are among the world’s strictest and gun violence is extremely rare.

Party officials cited in Japanese media said Abe was unconscious, and public broadcaster NHK reported that the 67-year-old was showing no vital signs. He had been giving a speech in Nara, east of Osaka, ahead of elections for Japan’s upper house of parliament on Sunday.

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At least two gunshots were heard. A suspect was arrested on-site for attempted murder, and a gun has been seized, NHK said. Police later identified the suspect as a man in his 40s named Tetsuya Yamagami, from Nara, according to Japanese media reports.

Footage aired on NHK showed Abe giving a speech, then a plume of smoke forming behind him as he collapsed. Officials ran to apprehend the shooter, who appeared to be positioned behind Abe.

Videos posted on social media from the campaign event showed a chaotic scene with Abe, unmoving, lying on the ground as attendees yelled for an ambulance.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno confirmed that Abe was shot around 11:30 a.m. Friday and said the government is working to confirm his condition. All cabinet members campaigning or helping campaigns have been asked to return to Tokyo, he said.

“Such violence cannot be permitted,” Matsuno said.

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Abe was admitted to the Nara Medical University Hospital, and government sources cited in media reports said the former leader was in critical condition.

Abe resigned as prime minister in 2020, citing health reasons, but remains influential in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

As Japan’s longest-serving leader, he oversaw a period of relative stability as prime minister from 2012 to 2020, raising Japan’s global image and emphasizing a strong alliance with the United States, even as former U.S. President Donald Trump tested long-standing relationships with allies.

Abe focused on reviving Japan’s stagnating economy through a package dubbed “Abenomics,” and sought to expand Japan’s military defenses. He tried to modify the country’s pacifist postwar constitution, which was controversial, and continued to push the country toward greater defensive postures even after he left office.

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Previously, he led the country from 2006 to 2007 but stepped down because of chronic ulcerative colitis, the same condition that led to his resignation in 2020. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was campaigning in Yamagata when the shooting occurred, was headed back to Tokyo and canceling campaign events.

LDP officials reacted with shock and condemned the attack on Abe. “This is truly an unforgivable act of political terrorism,” said Sanae Takaichi, chairwoman of the party’s Policy Research Council and 2021 prime ministerial candidate.

Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. Ambassador to Tokyo, in a statement Friday praised Abe as an “outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the U.S.,” and offered prayers for his family and the Japanese people.

“We are all saddened and shocked,” he said.

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