Japan's longest serving modern leader was shot while making a campaign speech on Friday morning by a 41-year-old man, in a deed decried by the political establishment as an attack on democracy itself.
"I'm just shocked that this kind of thing happened in Nara," Natsumi Niwa, a 50-year-old housewife, said after offering flowers with her 10-year-old son near the scene of the killing at a downtown train station.
Abe, a conservative and architect of the "Abenomics" policies aimed at reflating the Japanese economy, inspired the name of her son, Masakuni, with his rallying cry of Japan as a "beautiful nation", Niwa said. "Kuni" means nation in Japanese.
Over 100 people were queuing to lay flowers at midday at a table featuring a photo of Abe giving a speech, with more arriving. Local officials were moving some of the offerings to create space.
A night vigil will be held on Monday, with Abe's funeral to take place on Tuesday, attended by close friends, Japanese media said. There was no immediate word on any public memorial service.
Campaigning resumed on the final day of electioneering before polling for the upper house of parliament, which is expected to deliver victory to the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, an Abe protege.
Kishida was back on the campaign trail visiting regional constituencies, the Mainichi newspaper reported, after making an emergency return to Tokyo on Friday in the wake of the shooting.
Abe's killing "heightens the prospect for stronger turnout and greater support for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)", Eurasia Group analysts including David Boling wrote in a note.
The LDP, where Abe retained considerable influence, had already been expected to gain seats before the assassination. The lawmaker, 67, served twice as prime minister, stepping down citing ill health on both occasions.
"His health was improving so I was hoping he would have a third term," said 49-year-old Tatsuya Futami in Nara. "He was still young as a politician – it's a great shame."
Abe's death has raised questions about security for public figures in Japan, where politicians commonly make direct appeals to voters outside train stations and supermarkets during campaigning season.
A strong election performance "could catalyze Kishida to push for Abe's unfulfilled goal of amending Japan's constitution to allow for a stronger role for the military," James Brady, vice president at advisory firm Teneo, wrote in a note.
Abe, scion of a political family who became Japan's youngest postwar premier, was rushed to a Nara hospital following the shooting. He did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead five and a half hours after the late-morning attack.
Police are scrambling to establish details of the motive and method of Abe's killer.
A motorcade thought to be carrying the body of the slain politician left the hospital early on Saturday. It was thought to be headed for his Tokyo residence, local media reported.
Kishida spoke on Saturday with US President Joe Biden, who expressed his condolences and praised Abe's leadership, NHK reported.
I am stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened by the news that my friend Abe Shinzo, former Prime Minister of Japan, was shot and killed. He was a champion of the friendship between our people.
— President Biden (@POTUS) July 8, 2022
The United States stands with Japan in this moment of grief.
US President Joe Biden said he was "stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened" by Abe's assassination.
"This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him," Biden said in a statement. "Even at the moment he was attacked, he was engaged in the work of democracy.
"The United States stands with Japan in this moment of grief. I send my deepest condolences to his family," Biden added.
Abe was key in the creation of the Quad grouping aimed at countering China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The other members, the United States, India and Australia, expressed shock at the assassination in a joint statement.
"We will honour Prime Minister Abe's memory by redoubling our work towards a peaceful and prosperous region," the statement said.
"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.
Au nom du peuple français, j’adresse mes condoléances aux autorités et au peuple japonais après l’assassinat de Shinzo Abe. Le Japon perd un grand Premier ministre, qui dédia sa vie à son pays et œuvra à l’équilibre du monde.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) July 8, 2022
(FRANCE 24 with Reuters, AFP)