Doomsday cult claims stray seal as savior of humanity

Mainichi/May 6, 2003

Kofu -- The convoy of white-garbed Panawave Laboratory members entered the central Japan prefecture of Yamanashi on Tuesday, and is heading toward their final destination of Oizumi, where they are expected to await the end of the world, which they claim will occur on May 15.

After departing Kiyomi, Gifu Prefecture, where they occupied a section of road for over 60 hours Monday afternoon, the all-white fleet crossed the prefectural border and alighted on a national road in the Nagano Prefectural village of Kaida on Tuesday morning.

Unlike the roads they have occupied in previous months, the Kaida road was wide enough for them to avoid police accusations of breaking traffic rules.

A truck bearing license plates issued in Aomori Prefecture supplied the doomsday cult members with food and fuel.

During the stopover in Kaida, members of the cult allowed a Fuji Television Network reporter to conduct an interview with a woman believed to be Panawave's ailing leader, 69-year-old Yuko Chino. The interviewer and his crew were ordered to wear white garments and to cover their equipment with matching-colored cloths.

Despite claiming she is a terminally ill cancer patient, a surprisingly animated and lively Chino argued that the most important issue at the moment was to save "Tama-chan," a stray bearded seal that now lives in a river in Saitama Prefecture.

"I will die in four or five days from now but that's nothing as important as Tama-chan. We've been feeding him every day since last summer," Chino told the Fuji reporter inside one of the cult's vans.

She also accused "radicals" for harassing her followers and preventing them from settling in one place. The convoy then started moving again and entered Yamanashi Prefecture shortly after 5:30 p.m.

Sources said Panawave members believe that "rescuing" Tama-chan would spare mankind from certain destruction on May 15 -- the day when a massive earthquake triggered by the tilting of the Earth's axis will devastated the planet, according to cultist publications.

Tensions are rising in Oizumi, where cult members have constructed dome-shaped structures, which they claim to be resistant to any kind of natural disaster, in preparations for doomsday. The Panawave facility also has two makeshift swimming pools, apparently built to house the wandering seal.

A senior Panawave member who built the structures had told Oizumi officials that his fellow members would not come because there is "too much electromagnetic wave activity (that they believe to be harmful)." However, Chino's statement confirmed the cult's determination to find a shelter there.

Oizumi residents, however, are in no mood to welcome the cultists. "We are planning to do a sit-in (on roads leading to Oizumi) to stop them entering," said one of some 40 villagers who attended an emergency meeting Tuesday.

A resolution to call up every one of its 4,000 residents to block the cultists from entering Oizumi was adopted at the meeting. Members of a local volunteer fire company are watching six roads leading into the village.

Yamanashi police also set up a 210-man task force to deal with the problem. They plan to pounce on the cultists if, as they have done in the past, they occupy a section of road and cover the area with white cloths.

None of the possible charges, including violations of the Road Traffic Law and farmland laws, however, will have a decisive effect.

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