Sarin gas sect fears silence candidates in local election


South China Morning Post/April 23, 1999
By Sally Fisher

Hundreds of local government candidates are cruising the streets in minivans with loudspeakers as they campaign for Sunday's elections - except in one Nagano village.

In Kita-Mimaki village, the candidates and voters are preoccupied with their vigil against followers of Aum Shinri Kyo, the cult accused of the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo's subways which killed 12 people.

Electioneering is eerily quiet as candidates respect the distress of locals who fear a two-storey house purchased by the cult could be its new headquarters.

"If I were to stage an election campaign using a car, it would not be possible for me to join the villagers in forcing the cult out," one candidate said.

Another said a loudspeaker would provoke displeasure "at this difficult time".

Sect members began moving into the building in January. Villagers have since dug a two-metre-deep moat, laced with barbed wire, to keep the sect out. They also keep constant watch with six-hour shifts using a roster of 15 volunteers.

Aum leader Shoko Asahara is in jail and on trial for the sarin attack.

But as the cult regroups around the country on the back of its successful personal computer business, which sold seven billion yen (HK$452.9 million) worth of PCs last year, some communities are ridding themselves of its followers.

This week, a company associated with the sect agreed to leave a Tokyo apartment building which is home to a widow of a sarin gas attack victim. Shizue Takahashi collected 3,300 signatures demanding its expulsion.

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