Stabbings force gates shut


PRIME Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Cabinet have agreed on the need for tighter security at the nation's schools following the fatal stabbing of eight children last week.

The attack last Friday at an elementary school in the suburbs of Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, was the country's worst mass-killing in years and has generated widespread anger and shock. Thirteen children and two teachers were also wounded in the attack.

The accused killer, Mamoru Takuma, is a 37-year-old former janitor with a history of mental illness.

Police have quoted him as saying that he deliberately chose to kill children because he wanted to be put to death for the crime. Takuma is expected to be charged with murder and attempted murder during the next few weeks.

According to police, Takuma had a history of violence, including the attempted poisoning of four teachers at another school. Mr Koizumi now wants a review of Japan's laws regarding the treatment of suspects deemed mentally ill.

The massacre follows the stabbing to death of a teacher by a pupil in 1998 and the slashing of a seven-year-old's throat by an intruder in a school in 199. But generally Japan's schools, like its streets, are a great dealer safer than their western counterparts.

In a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mr Koizumi reiterated his desire for increased security at schools. The education ministry, meanwhile, has instructed all elementary, middle and high schools to re-evaluate campus security. Many have begun closing their gates during the day.

But this contradicts the ministry's attempts to encourage schools to be open to the community, which means allowing visitors in unchecked and admitting locals to use facilities such as gymnasiums. The principal of the Osaka massacre school, Yoshio Yamane, said that from now on his school would employ a security guard. But vice-principal Katsumi Yano has expressed doubts that guards could have prevented Friday's stabbing.

"I don't know if the guards could have prevented this or if the lack of a security system was the reason for the incident," Yano told the Japan Times. No matter how tight security is, he added, there is always a danger of intruders.

In 1999, a Tokyo judge ruled that schools were responsible for preventing violent acts on their premises.

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