Don't forget Tokyo subway gas attack: survivors and bereaved families

AFP/March 19, 2001

Tokyo -- On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the doomsday cult Aum's nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway, survivors and bereaved families Monday urged the public to help them and not to forget the tragedy.

"The government has said that it will assist victims of the crime. But we have not received any," said Shizue Takahashi, 54, who lost her husband in the 1995 sarin-gas massacre.

"People say the time heals wounds. But that's not true," she said. "In my ordinary, day-to-day life, I feel extreme sadness about the loss of my husband." "I just sit alone in my house and weep because I feel so empty," she said. "There are many people who are like me or who were injured in the attack. I ask the government for more support."

At 8 am on March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Supreme Truth released the Nazi-invented nerve gas in crowded subway trains, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,500. The cult's near-blind guru Chizuo Matsumoto, whose religious name is Shoko Asahara, was arrested two months later.

He is on trial in the Tokyo district court on multiple charges -- including masterminding the subway attack which smacked of his vision of an apocalyptic war towards the end of the century.

The gassing was staged as the cult, dabbling in Indian mysticism and primitive Buddhism, was braced for a police crackdown in connection with its earlier Sarin-gas attack in the provincial city of Matsumoto, 150 kilometres (90 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

In a press conference, the survivors and the bereaved families emphasized the need for monetary assistance from the government to compensate them or to help pay for medical costs.

Last year, a private fund set up in 1999 by volunteers offered free medical checkups to 360 survivors of the attack. "However, the fund is not able to offer the same checkups due to the lack of funding," said Kenji Utsunomiya, a manager of the fund. He leads a team of lawyers representing about 160 survivors or relatives of those who died in the attack.

"That's why the government must do something to help the victims," he said. A woman, who was injured in the subway attack, said she still suffers from chronic migraines and emotional problems.

"Without government support, many survivors cannot receive medical checkups," said the women, who asked for anonymity. "Simple annual checkups would give many people peace of mind."

Another woman, who lost her father in the attack expressed her frustration over the slow progress in Matsumoto's trial. "I came before (reporters) last year, telling you that I hoped for the swift conclusion of the case," said the woman, who also asked not to be named.

"This year, I have nothing to tell you because nothing has happened (to Matsumoto.)," she said. "I just feel that it has been taking so long. And it's been very frustrating."

"We want people to hear our stories," she said. "It takes a lot of courage to speak out. But we must keep telling our stories in order to keep the issue alive." Six subway stations, which were used as targets of the attacks, will erect platforms Tuesday for bereaved families and commuters to offer flowers in remberance.

The Kasumigaseki station, whose two staff members died in trying to rescue passengers, will hold a silent prayer at 8 am (2300 GMT) Tuesday, when the attack took place, according to the Teito Rapid Transit Authority.

The Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo is crowded with central government offices and the station is one of the busiest in Tokyo during the rush hour.

"We are holding those events to mark the sixth anniversary of the sarin gas incident," said a spokesman for the authority. "It is to remind us of the incident that we must not forget."

Almost all the cult's leaders have been jailed but it is still seen as a threat to society with about 1,200 followers. It changed its name to Aleph in January 2000.

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