Japanese gangsters killed in ultra-right gun battle

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The Independent Online

Japanese Yakuza gangsters made a banzai charge at the Tokyo office of an ultra-rightist group yesterday, setting off a gun battle that left two dead and six injured. Calling it a case of intra-group conflict, police said the fight took place in a building just yards from an official residence for members of the House of Councillors, Japan's upper chamber of parliament.

Japanese Yakuza gangsters made a banzai charge at the Tokyo office of an ultra-rightist group yesterday, setting off a gun battle that left two dead and six injured. Calling it a case of intra-group conflict, police said the fight took place in a building just yards from an official residence for members of the House of Councillors, Japan's upper chamber of parliament.

Investigators said that about 15 knife-wielding gangsters affiliated with the notorious Sumiyoshi crime syndicate stormed the office of the Sofusha (Blue Wind group) in the capital's downtown Kojimachi district, only to be met by a volley of gunfire. The attack apparently followed a dispute over unpaid debts.

Two of the mobsters later died, and five were taken to hospital with injuries, one in a critical condition. Only one of the Sofusha members was reported to have been wounded. Police arrested three Sofusha members on charges of possessing firearms.

While organised crime and ultra-right politics are often closely linked in Japan, gun battles are virtually unheard of, thanks to extremely tight gun control laws. When they do happen, they are usually confined to yakuza-controlled red light areas, such as Tokyo's infamous Kabukicho district. But yesterday's incident took place in mid-afternoon in an upmarket business centre.

Sofusha, boasting about 35 members, was set up in 1983,allegedly with the backing of Sumiyoshi-affiliated yakuza. Its main activity has been to cruise the Tokyo streets in flag-draped vans, broadcasting Imperial propaganda over tinny loudspeakers. Recently, the group was said to have had cash-flow problems and a leadership crisis; rumours have circulated that it would be disbanded.

Already there is speculation in Japan that the incident reflects a new era in organised crime, with gangsters more likely to resort to the gun.

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