To the relief of local residents in Tokyo's Adachi-ku, the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult began vacating its office in the ward on Thursday, the day after the group said it would suspend its outside activities and use of its name.
But the departure may mean a new source of worry for the residents of Toshima-ku, where the cult tentatively plans to base its new headquarters. "We would like to do as much as possible to remove the anxiety of the residents," said Toshima Mayor Yukio Takano, who heads a newly established task force aimed at taking countermeasures against the cult.
On Thursday morning, about 100 residents gathered to keep the cult from moving into a building in Toshima-ku by setting up a human barricade around a structure that already houses the cult's exercise hall.
"Do not come back, you murderers," shouted the residents to cult followers living in the exercise hall as they started to remove the barricade that the residents had built with desks and chairs at around 11:15 a.m.
About half an hour later, a male cult follower showed up and explained to the residents that the cult was "going to use the structure only temporarily until the end of November."
The residents furiously replied, "It's OK for you to move out, but we'll block your moving in."
Shortly past noon, Takano arrived in front of the office of the task force to encourage the residents, saying, "We offer all-out support, so please do your best for the rest of the day."
The mayor was set to submit to the religious group a written statement rejecting the cult's move into the structure, which would house the cult's legal and public relations departments.
The municipal government has also decided to financially support the residents' AUM-related court trials by lending them money.
Thursday marked the expiration of the time limit for the cult's evacuation from the Adachi-ku building as set by the group's bankruptcy receiver. At 9:55 a.m. Thursday, a truck and a van left the cult's office in the Adachi-ku building, followed by sporadic vehicles moving in and out of the structure. A white curtain that covered a window in the cult's exercise hall on the third floor of the building was also removed at 10:55 a.m. A day before the cult's major move, Tatsuko Muraoka, 49, deputy representative of the religious group, announced on Wednesday that the cult would suspend its outside religious activities and the use of its name as of Friday.
Muraoka also said at a news conference held at the Adachi-ku office that the group would examine and announce its views on the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other incidents.
"Confusion and unrest are spreading among the group," said Muraoka. As the reasons for the group's suspension of its activities, she cited: the trouble with residents; protests against the cult in connection with the abduction of a relative of one of the victims in the 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture; and the notice from its bankruptcy receiver to stop using the group's name.
The cult's activities to be suspended include assemblies for seminars and study meetings, operating the cult's Internet home page, and missionary work for propagating its religion.
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