Japanese cult seeks new sanctuary after police raid

London Independent/May 2, 2003
By Gary Schaeffer

Tokyo -- A caravan of vehicles belonging to a New Age group that had been parked on a mountain road in western Japan for almost a week left yesterday after it was searched by hundreds of police who warned it was breaking traffic laws, an officer said.

The group, Panawave, had been camped on the little-travelled two-lane road in western Gifu prefecture since last Friday, seeking sanctuary from electromagnetic waves that it claims are being generated by left-wing guerrillas in Japan as part of a conspiracy to destroy Panawave's leadership. It has also draped surrounding trees with white cloths which are meant to neutralise the effects of the waves.

Earlier this week, authorities in two nearby towns served eviction notices on the group. Representatives of the 30-person encampment replied that they would be unable to leave until the end of this week because they were carrying a sick person, widely thought to be their guru.

But the caravan began pulling out yesterday evening, hours after receiving a warning from 300 police officers who searched their vehicles on suspicion of breaking traffic laws, said a spokesman for the prefecture about 170 miles (270 km) west of Tokyo.

No arrests were made, and it was not clear where the caravan was heading, a police official said. 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 travelled to Gifu after spending almost eight months camping out near a lake in the neighbouring prefecture of Fukui, according to police there. That site was also left bedecked in white sheets.

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

According to the group's literature, Mr Yuko 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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