Tokyo angry at Yeltsin aid snub

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The Independent Online
Japan has reacted with anger and bemusement to a suggestion by the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, that Tokyo might have ulterior motives for offering aid, writes Richard Lloyd Parry.

The death toll in the stood unofficially at 2,000 early today, as Russian seismologists predicted that another equally powerful tremor could hit the island in the next fortnight. But the rescue effort has been overshadowed by controversy after Mr Yeltsin said Japan might be using aid as a bargaining counter in the dispute over the Kurile islands, north of Japan, occupied by the Soviet Union after the Second World War.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, said Tokyo's offer had nothing to do with the dispute. "If the president actually made those remarks, it is really regrettable."

By yesterday morning 559 bodies had been removed from the ruins of Neftegorsk, and about 500 more were recovered during the day.

Several survivors were dug out, including a boy of 10 trapped for five days in the ruins of his five-storey apartment building, which collapsed along with 18 others. But after another near freezing night, the great majority were dead. Yesterday evening at least 200 coffins were lined up in the makeshift cemetery in Neftegorsk school.

An unknown number of the injured had died, according to the Russian Minister for Emergencies, Sergei Shoigu. "I cannot say for sure that there will be many healthy survivors at all."

Several small aftershocks were felt in the town throughout the day and seismologists in the Moscow academy of science announced that these might presage another powerful quake in the next two weeks.

Residents denounced an offer by the local council to rehouse survivors in the nearby town of Okha. "They have offered us 1 million roubles [pounds 125]," said Anastasia Utagulova, 55. "I have lived here 22 years, but now I want to go to my relatives in the Ukraine. My wife needs a wheelchair. What use is one million roubles to me?"