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Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007

Osaka officials forcefully evict park's homeless, supporters


Staff writer

OSAKA -- About 260 officials, backed by 300 private security guards, evicted nine homeless people and about 150 of their supporters from Osaka's Nagai Park on Monday amid protests.

News photo
A man shouts at officials and security guards as they remove homeless people's tents Monday from Nagai Park in Osaka. KYODO PHOTO

Officials moved in at 9 a.m., removing the homeless and their supporters who had gathered around a makeshift shelter, which was also razed. Angry words were exchanged between officials and protesters, and there was minor pushing and shoving but no injuries. About two dozen police officers issued verbal warnings to protesters, but no arrests were reported.

By noon, the homeless and their supporters had left the area and city officials had torn down and removed 13 makeshift shelters, built with blue tarpaulins and discarded wood. Most of the homeless were expected to go into municipal shelters in other parts of the city.

Officially, Osaka said it was evicting the homeless to beautify Nagai Park by putting in additional lighting and pedestrian walkways. Few of the homeless or their supporters believe that's the real reason.

In August, Osaka hosts the International Association of Athletics Federations 2007 World Championships, one of the world's largest track and field competitions. Many events will take place in Nagai Stadium, which is within sight of where the homeless were encamped.

The homeless say the city is kicking them out to prepare for the event.

In the past, city officials have cleared out homeless dwellers to hosting major international events.

Last year, homeless were evicted from Utsubo Park prior to an international rose convention.

In the late 1990s, Osaka had the worst homeless problem in Japan, with an estimated 15,000 people living on the streets and in parks. In recent years, the city has addressed the problem, and as of the end of last year there were an estimated 5,000 homeless in Osaka. The vast majority live not in city parks but in Nishinari Ward, the city's traditional day-laborer district.



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