TOKYO (Reuters) - The mayor of the Japanese city of Nagasaki died early on Wednesday after being shot by a gangster, police said.
Itcho Ito, 61, seeking re-election for a fourth term on Sunday, was shot at least twice in the back outside his campaign office just before 8 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Tuesday.
Ito’s death comes as a shock to a nation where there are very strict gun control laws and where attacks against politicians are rare.
Police arrested Tetsuya Shiroo, 59, a senior member of a local gang affiliated with Japan’s largest crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi Gumi, and seized a revolver he had with him.
The motive for the shooting remained unclear, but public broadcaster NHK said Shiroo was upset at the city’s handling of a traffic accident four years ago in which his car was damaged as it passed a public works construction site.
Ito’s predecessor was also shot and seriously injured in 1990 by a right-wing group member after making comments that Emperor Hirohito should be held liable for war responsibilities.
After an emergency operation that lasted for around four hours, Ito was kept alive for some time by an artificial heart and lungs but died at 2:28 a.m. (1728 GMT) due to loss of blood, a police spokesman said.
Doctors had told a news conference that two bullets had reached his heart.
TV footage earlier showed the mayor lying face down on a sidewalk with his eyes closed as paramedics treated him.
The Asahi Shimubn newspaper said in an editorial that “such base terror cannot be tolerated”.
“If the use of violence is tolerated when others do not do as one says, the freedom of speech will be lost,” it said. “It risks pushing the country back to its wrong, dark years before the war.”
Japan has very strict gun control laws and firearms are mostly in the hands of “yakuza” gangsters or hunters.
The last known murder of a politician in Japan was in October 2002, when lower house member Koki Ishii was stabbed to death by a member of a right-wing group in front of his Tokyo home.
Politicians expressed shock at the shooting, which came as many campaigned ahead of local elections across the country on Sunday.
“We cannot tolerate the use of bullets to attack political views,” Hidenao Nakagawa, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was quoted as saying on Kyodo news agency.
Nagasaki, on the southernmost main island of Kyushu and some 980 km (610 miles) southwest of Tokyo, was the second city to suffer an atomic bombing by the United States on August 9, 1945.
Ito had previously been critical of U.S. nuclear arms policies and has been a strong advocate of Japan sticking to its decades-old ban on nuclear arms.
Last year, on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city, Ito criticized Iran and North Korea for their nuclear programs and had harsh words for the United States for failing to halt nuclear proliferation.