Tokyo gripped by doomsday fears



in Tokyo

There was tension in the Tokyo air last night as people waited to see if predictions by Japan's doomsday cult of an apocalypse today come true.

Yesterday, police simultaneously raided premises owned by Aum Shinri Kyo, the sect suspected of the sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo's underground.

In their largest peacetime operation, about 100,000 police officers - more than one third of the national force - descended on 130 buildings and imposed heavy security checks across the capital. The raids included the village of Kamikuishiki, where tons of nerve gas ingredients have been uncovered, as well as regional offices, supermarkets, warehouses, computer shops, and even yoga clubs, noodle restaurants and babysitting services operated by the sect. Last night, there were noticeably fewer weekend revellers in Tokyo and police were patrolling department stores, stations and subways.

The Aum guru, Shoko Asahara, who has been in hiding since the underground attack, is said to have predicted that a catastrophe will strike the Shinjuku area today. Newspapers said relatives of sect members had been warned to avoid Tokyo this weekend. Two department stores will shut today.

There were scuffles between Aum believers and police, who dragged cult children kicking and screaming from parents.

Police have not openly linked the sect to the 20 March attack, which killed 11 people and made more than 5,000 ill, but they have since arrested 107 members on charges including abduction, illegal confinement and traffic offences.

An Aum spokesman said Mr Asahara's prophecy of a disaster was based on his astrology studies. Aum posed no threat.