Japan cult in stand-off with police

BBC News/May 1, 2003

Members of a mysterious cult are engaged in a stand-off with police on a mountain road in central Japan.

The group, which calls itself the Pana Wave Laboratory, is reportedly refusing to move until the end of this week, saying that is caring for a seriously ill woman believed to be its leader.

The cult, whose members are clad entirely in white, is reported to believe that the world will be devastated on 15 May by natural disasters, caused by a reversal of the magnetic pole.

Police said on Thursday that about 300 officers had been sent to the area, and that they had begun searching the group's 15 vehicles on the road in Yamato town, Gifu prefecture, on suspicion that they had broken traffic laws.

National police chief Hidehiko Sato told a news conference that Pana Wave Laboratory resembled the feared Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth cult, which carried out a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

"We don't know what they're really thinking or what they might do," a police officer in the nearby town of Hachiman told Reuters news agency.

An official with the cult told reporters earlier this week that a communist group was seeking to take the life of their leader by trying to kill her with a weapon using electromagnetic waves.

Japanese newspapers said that a pamphlet issued last year by a religious cult that evolved into Pana Wave Laboratory said that if its leader died, its members would "exterminate all humankind at once."

"Many of the residents here are elderly, and they are very worried. They say the group is weird," one police officer said.

The group has draped its cars and the surrounding trees with white cloth, which it claims neutralises the effects of harmful electromagnetic waves.

Members wear surgical-style white robes, flowing headgear and facemasks.

The group has reportedly been on the move across Japan for the last 10 years.

Last week, prosecutors called for the death penalty against Aum founder Shoko Asahara, who is accused of masterminding the 1995 Tokyo subway attack.

A verdict is not expected until mid-2003.

Aum has now reformed as Aleph, and has renounced violence.

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