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Japan Marks Sarin Attack Anniversary

Government officials and survivors on Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of a Japanese doomsday cult's nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway, offering silent prayers and laying flowers at a station for the victims.

At 8 a.m., about 25 officials bowed to observe a moment of silence at a subway station near Japan's government offices district — one of the Aum Shinrikyo (search) cult's targets. They doffed their caps, prayed and left bouquets at a temporary altar for the 12 people killed and 5,000 others hospitalized in the attack.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) and other government officials later visited the station to pray before the altar.

On March 20, 1995, five members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult punctured plastic bags filled with sarin nerve gas during morning rush hour.

The attack — Japan's most shocking act of urban terrorism — shattered the country's image as a low-crime haven, prompted a police crackdown on the cult, and led to tougher security measures at railway stations and airports. Many of the survivors still suffer from headaches and breathing problems, or are too sick to work.

Tatsuhide Nojiri, who was chief of one of the railway stations attacked, said he can't forget the horrors of that day.

"Even now I remember it so vividly. Frankly, I'd rather not talk about it," said Nojiri, who stood before a memorial plaque.

Thirteen Aum members, including the former leader Shoko Asahara (search), have been sentenced to death for the attack and other crimes. None have yet been executed. Asahara and others have appealed their sentences to higher courts. Three former members who are wanted by police remain at-large.

Aum claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and 30,000 in Russia at its height. The cult has regrouped under a new name, Aleph, but remains under close police surveillance and has been ordered to pay compensation to survivors and families of the dead. Its membership has fallen to about 2,000.

Critics say while the group's name has changed, its teachings and reverence for Asahara haven't.

Aleph issued a statement Sunday to express a "heartfelt apology" for the Aum attack and a commitment to compensate victims. It has promised to pay more than US$35 million (euro26 million) in damages to victims, though has come up with only a third of that amount.

"As a testament to this day 10 years ago ... we hereby renew our promise never to repeat an incident of that kind," a statement on the group's Web site said.

On Saturday, more than 100 sarin survivors, families of the dead, doctors and volunteers walked the streets between stations along one of the five subway lines attacked. Organizers said the event was part of the healing process for survivors.