Monday, June 30, 2008

Customs say officers have planted drugs in unwitting travelers' bags 160 times for training

Three customs officers have planted packages of cannabis resin in the luggage of travelers arriving at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo without notice a total of 160 times since last September to train drug sniffer dogs, Tokyo Customs said Monday.

Disciplinary actions have been taken against the three officers and nine senior customs officials as such acts are banned under Tokyo Customs’ in-house rules.

Among the three was a 38-year-old customs officer who planted cannabis resin in the luggage of a traveler from Hong Kong earlier this year.

The officer failed to retrieve the resin before the traveler got his luggage and left the airport on May 25. The following day, Tokyo Customs recovered the 120 grams of resin at a Tokyo hotel where the traveler was staying.

The officer, who has been found to have planted drugs in travelers’ bags 90 times, has been suspended from duty for three months in a disciplinary action.

A 10% salary cut for three months has been imposed on two other customs officers who also planted packages of cannabis resin in travelers’ luggage 10 and some 60 times, respectively.

The head of Tokyo Customs was among the nine senior officials who were also given pay cuts and warnings.

Tokyo Customs said it has banned its officers from putting drugs in travelers’ luggage without notice for the training of sniffer dogs.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Taiwan recalls top Japan rep as tensions rise over ship collision

A festering tiff between Taiwan and Japan over a ship collision in disputed waters dramatically worsened Saturday, when Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry announced the recall of the island’s top representative in Japan and plans to scrap a special ministry committee that handles ties with Tokyo. “We absolutely cannot accept Japan’s report on the incident,” said Foreign Minister Francisco Ou in a Taipei press conference. He was referring to a recent investigation findings report by Tokyo that found the Taiwanese fishing boat captain partially at fault for the incident.

Taipei will recall its de facto ambassador in Japan, Koh Se-kai, and terminate the ministry’s Committee on Japanese Affairs to protest the report, Ou added. According to the report, the Taiwanese captain was partially at fault for a collision between his boat, aboard which were 16 people, and a Japan Coast Guard vessel during an encounter near a group of Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea known in Japan as the ‘‘Senkaku Islands,’’ in Taiwan as ‘‘Tiaoyutai’’ and in China as ‘‘Diaoyu.’’

6 dead, 13 missing after magnitude 7 hits northeast Japan

A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.2 jolted extensive areas of northeastern Japan on Saturday morning, leaving at least six people dead, 13 people missing and nearly 200 others injured, authorities said.

The 8:43 a.m. quake, followed by a series of aftershocks of lesser intensity, hit mainly mountainous areas in Miyagi, Akita and Iwate prefectures, scarring hills, tearing up roads and even knocking down a 95-meter bridge, they said.

The quake left about 400 people including tourists stranded in various areas due to severed roads, temporarily blacked out nearly 30,000 households and disrupted transport and telecommunications infrastructure.

The quake measured upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Miyagi’s Kurihara, around 350 kilometers north of Tokyo, and Iwate’s Oshu, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

No tsunami alert was issued after the initial inland quake that originated around 8 km underground in southern Iwate Prefecture, the agency said.

The Self-Defense Forces, the Japan Coast Guard and other authorities flew helicopters to rescue stranded people in remote mountainous areas that suffered serious damage.

The authorities suspended their search and rescue operations at night, saying they will be resumed Sunday morning.

Nuclear power plants in Miyagi and neighboring Fukushima Prefecture are operating normally, according to Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Tokyo Electric Power Co.

‘‘I felt a shock as I was pushed up’’ from the ground, tourist Katsuko Momma, 60, said, describing the fear she felt as she traveled in a car driven by her husband near the epicenter.

Momma, from the town of Misato, Miyagi Prefecture, said she saw a section of a hill collapse with a roar as the couple walked after leaving the car as the road had many cracks. ‘‘I’m worried about what’s happened to our house,’’ she said.

‘‘I feel scared at night because I live by myself,’’ said Tokiko Suzuki, 79, who runs a barber shop in Oshu.

In Kurihara, seven people were trapped in rubble at the Komanoyu hot spring resort inn, police said. The trapped people include two tourists and relatives of the inn’s owner.

Local officials said that three foreign nationals and one Japanese person on a camping trip in the resort, who had gone missing earlier, have been accounted for.

The Kurihara city government said four other people are still missing.

The Ground Self-Defense Force dispatched a disaster relief unit at the request of the Iwate and Miyagi prefectural governments, and 197 relief teams from Tokyo and 13 other prefectures comprising of a total of 773 members were sent to quake-hit areas.

The authorities said about 220 people remained stranded in the area around Mt. Kurikoma on the Iwate-Miyagi prefectural border and 200 others in the Sukawa and Kurikoma hot spring areas in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

Tomozo Chiba, 60, of Iwate’s Ichinoseki, was killed after being hit by a truck as he jumped onto a road following the quake, and Michitaka Ishii, 55, of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, died in a landslide while fishing on the seashore, police and firefighters said.

Masahiko Chiba, 48, was killed by falling rocks at a dam construction site in Oshu, Iwate.

Three construction workers were also trapped in a landslide in Kurihara. Two of them, Masami Igarashi, 54, and Yoshitomi Kadowaki, 53, were rescued but later pronounced dead. The other is still missing.

A bus was hit by a landslide in Oshu with about 20 people temporarily trapped inside, and six children and a teacher at a nursery school in the city were injured, police said. All the bus passengers were later rescued.

Twenty-three people on another bus heading for Sendai airport were injured in the city of Natori in Miyagi as the bus bounced due to the quake, firefighters said.

A total of 119 telephone lines were disconnected in Kurihara as cables were cut. Subscribers of three major mobile phone carriers experienced difficulties using their handsets in the quake-hit areas.

East Japan Railway Co, a major train operator in the region, said it had to suspend or slow down many trains on the Akita, Tohoku and Yamagata Shinkansen bullet train lines as well as conventional train services, affecting about 117,000 passengers.

The central government set up an office at the prime minister’s office to handle the post-quake situation and sent a team headed by National Public Safety Commission Chairman Shinya Izumi, who also serves as minister in charge of disaster preparedness measures, to assess the quake damage.