Apology not enough as PM moves on sect

South China Morning Post, December 3, 1999

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi yesterday vowed to crack down on the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, despite the sect's apology for spreading lethal sarin gas in Tokyo's subway system in 1995.

"No matter what, the sect is being judged by the law as a religious group that caused the sarin incident, indiscriminately targeting many innocent people," said the premier.

"We should never allow such a crime to happen again and now we are going to deter it by enacting two Aum laws."

On Wednesday, the cult for the first time admitted causing the gas attack and apologised to the victims.

"We have concluded that we cannot deny that some of our officials at that time were involved in the incidents," sect representative Tatsuko Muraoka said.

"I would like to apologise from my heart to those who fell victim and their families."

The apology was released two days before the upper house of parliament was to pass legislation cracking down on the sect. Japan's lower house approved the legislation on November 18.

Clearly directed at Aum, though not actually naming the sect, the law would allow Japanese authorities to ban the cult from receiving donations and, when necessary, prevent it from buying property.

Mr Obuchi said "the purpose of the law" was to deter Aum Shinri Kyo from committing deadly crimes like the sarin gas attack, and added that the Government would do its utmost to secure public safety and property against the cult.

"We will take appropriate action so that we won't see such a crime again." Aum members, led by Shoko Asahara, shocked the world when they spread sarin gas in Tokyo's underground in March 1995, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is being tried on 17 charges, including murder, in the gas attack.

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