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Saboteurs Paralyze Rail Lines During Rush Hour

November 29, 1985

TOKYO (AP) _ Saboteurs firebombed a train station and sliced railroad communications cables today, paralyzing commuter rail lines in the Tokyo area and creating chaos for up to 10 million travelers, officials said.

Acts of vandalism were reported at the same time in six other parts of the country, including the cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, but with less serious impact on rail service, the government-run Japan National Railways and National Police Agency reported.

No injuries were reported in any of the incidents. The national police said 48 people, including a leader of a radical leftist group, were arrested in connection with the sabotage.

Tadashi Ito, a spokesman for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, said the wrecking apparently was done in sympathy with striking railway employees. But a union official denied any link.

The employees are opposed to plans to make the deficit-ridden government train system private and drastically cut its workforce.

Later, police searched the headquarters of both the union and the leftist group, the Chukaku-ha, or Middle Core Faction, but did not say if anything was found.

National Police Agency officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said signal and communications lines were cut in 34 locations near Tokyo and Osaka. About 4 million commuters each morning use the Japan National Railways lines serving Tokyo, a city of 12 million.

Kyodo News Service quoted Transport Minister Tokuo Yamashita as saying that over the course of the day the disruptions affected about 10 million people in the Tokyo area and about 830,000 in Osaka.

However, railway spokesman Takashi Miyashiro estimated the number affected at 6.5 million people. Some service was restored on all affected lines in time for the evening rush hour, he said.

Another railway spokesman, Mikio Takahashi, said the sabotage began at 3:20 a.m., when underground cables were cut in the Tokyo area.

About the same time, three railway signal boxes in Osaka were burned, Takahashi said. The other incidents occurred in the cities of Hiroshima and Kyoto, and in Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures adjoining Tokyo.

Altogether, officials were forced to halt service on 22 commuter lines, including 20 in the Tokyo area.

One vandalism attack in Hiroshima caused delays of up to 21/2 hours for high-speed ″bullet″ trains between Tokyo and the southwestern main island of Kyushu, Miyashiro said.

At about 7 a.m., some 50 people wearing masks and armed with steel pipes broke into the Asakusabashi station in eastern Tokyo and hurled flaming bottles filled with gasoline, said Ito of the Tokyo police.

The station platform and stationmaster’s office were seriously damaged, Ito said. No trains were operating at the time, he said.

Ito said the 48 suspects were charged with assembling with dangerous weapons, interfering with public and police duties, violating control laws over the usage of Molotov cocktails and commiting arson.

Among those charged were Masashi Kamata, 32, identified as a leader of Chukaku-ha, and numerous followers, the statement said.

The Chukaku-ha is best known for its protests against building the international airport at Narita, 40 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Kyodo reported that the general secretary of the Chiba Locomotive Workers Union, Hiroshi Kobayashi, told members at a rally this morning that ″those who caused the damage are reported to be guerrillas who support us. Let’s support the guerrilla war and continue the strike through to the end with the guerrillas.″

The 1,100-member union began its 24-hour strike at noon Thursday to protest the government plan to privatize the rail system and cut its work force from the current 337,000 employees to 188,000 by the end of the decade.

However, union Chairman Hiroshi Nakano said in a statement issued late today, ″The attacks have nothing to do with the union.″ Union spoksman Toshio Yamaguchi said the strike ended as planned at noon today.

The train shutdowns forced many rail commuters to use subways, buses, taxis and bicycles to get to work. Tokyo’s 10 subway lines groaned under the crush of new passengers, and delays were common.

Station officials and police with bullhorns directed the crowds, and platform attendants used their shoulders and feet to force people into the cars. Some train windows were broken in the crush, but there were no reports of injuries.

Many schools canceled classes and offices reported high absenteeism, Kyodo said.

Kyodo said Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone made a statement apologizing for the disruption.

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