Anniversary of Tokyo subway gassing brings prayers for victims


Associated Press/March 20, 1999
By Todd Zaun

TOKYO (AP) -- Rail workers and victims' relatives gathered at a subway station and prayed at an altar decorated with white chrysanthemums to mark the fourth anniversary Saturday of the deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways.

At the Kasumigaseki station in central Tokyo, 40 workers and victims' family members offered their prayers at 8 a.m. local time -- the time that members of the Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult released the poisonous gas on five subway lines in 1995.

Twelve people were killed and 5,300 were injured.

Police arrested more than 400 cult members. Their leader, Shoko Asahara, and many of his top aides are on trial for allegedly masterminding the assault.

During today's ceremony, an elderly couple left a bouquet of chrysanthemums at the spot on the subway platform where their son collapsed and died while fleeing a gas-filled subway car.

Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who was in office at the time of the attack, offered a prayer at the Kasumigaseki station altar, as he has every year since the tragedy.

Services were also held at other stations where people died or were injured.

At its peak, Aum claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and tens of thousands more in Russia, Germany, the United States and several other countries. It now has a core of only about 500 cultists in its communes. Hundreds more consider themselves members, although they have not taken the final step of giving away all worldly possessions.

Asahara's trial is expected to drag on for several more years.

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