Cult leaves after police search

Herald Sun/May 1, 2003

A caravan of vehicles belonging to a New Age group holed up on a mountain road in western Japan for almost a week left after it was searched by hundreds of police and warned it was breaking traffic laws, an officer said.

The group, Panawave, has become a focus of media attention in Japan since it began camping along the little-travelled two-lane road in western Gifu prefecture last Friday, obstructing traffic and draping trees with white cloth.

Panawave says it is seeking sanctuary from electromagnetic waves generated by left-wing guerrillas in Japan as part of a conspiracy to destroy its leadership.

It claims the cloth neutralises the effects of the waves.

Earlier this week authorities in two nearby towns served eviction notices to the group.

Representatives of the approximately 30 people in the camp responded they would be unable to leave until the end of this week because they were carrying a sick person who is widely believed to be their guru.

But the caravan began pulling out this evening, hours after receiving a warning by 300 police officers who searched their vehicles on suspicion that they had broken traffic laws, said a spokesman for the prefectural police in Gifu, about 270km west of Tokyo.

No arrests were made, and it was not clear where the caravan was headed, said the police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Media reports quoted unidentified officers as saying it was believed to be en route for one of the group's bases in the nearby prefecture of Yamanashi.

The caravan came to Gifu after spending almost eight months camping out along a lake in the neighbouring prefecture of Fukui, according to police there. That site was also left swathed in white sheets.

A Panawave spokesman said the caravan was protecting Yuko Chino, 69, a self-proclaimed prophet who preaches a blend of Christianity, Buddhism and New Age doctrines.

According to the group's literature, Chino believes that an undiscovered planet is moving closer to the earth and will cause "cataclysmic" changes this summer.

There have been no reports of damage or injuries caused by the group, although they have scuffled with reporters at the scene.

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