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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Protesters call for Aum members' eviction


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Some 400 people took part in a protest rally Monday to have Aum Shinrikyo followers evicted from the cult's headquarters in Nishinari Ward, Osaka.

Participants included municipal and prefectural assembly members who are calling for Aum, which now calls itself Aleph, to vacate two stories of a five-story building near JR Shin-imamiya Station that it took over June 1.

Aum's Osaka operations had previously been split between offices in the city of Suita and Higashi-Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka. These premises were vacated after local citizens complained about the cult's presence.

"It is important to guard the rights of all people," said Osaka Municipal Assembly member Michihiro Kobayashi, who represents Nishinari. "However, in spite of the fact that members of Aum Shinrikyo have been arrested, the group has not disbanded. For the safety of Nishinari, we must oppose Aum's entry into the ward."

Nearly 60,000 signatures protesting the cult's presence in Nishinari have been gathered since mid-June, according to almost a dozen citizens' groups attending the protest. The groups said they will continue gathering signatures until they present the petition to Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura sometime next month.

Since moving into Nishinari, Aum has faced increasing pressure to leave. About 20 people are believed to be living in the building, but Aum members refused to provide exact figures or comment on the day's demonstration.

Several participants said they were especially worried that the group might try to recruit new members.

"I'm for freedom of religion, but this group is a cult," said Sumiko Morii, a 53-year-old resident who took part in the protest. "We are very worried about our children being approached by members of Aleph and being tricked into joining."



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