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Monday, July 27, 1998 Published at 00:55 GMT 01:55 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Cyanide poisoning kills four



Japanese police are investigating a suspected case of multiple murder by poisoning, after dozens of people ate food laced with cyanide at a festival in western Japan.

Four people who ate the contaminated curry and rice have died. At least another 60 are being treated in hospital after eating the meal.

Even trace amounts of the toxin cyanide can cause nausea.

The victims, from the small community of Wakayama, have suffered incessant vomiting, irregular heart beat and numbness in the limbs.

Around 150 extra police officers have been sent to the town to carry out a house to house search.

"We have yet to make any final determination about the case, but it appears that someone tainted the food or eating utensils with cyanide," a police spokesman said.

Mass murder could not be ruled out, according to the spokesman.

Community shocked

The case has shocked the town.

"I don't understand how this could have happened," a festival-goer told Japanese national television.

"We all know each other and I don't remember seeing any strangers there.

"There were two people watching the food all the time until it was taken to the food stall."

Over 100 people attended the summer festival, the town's main annual event.

The curry dish had been sold on polystyrene plates at 150 yen ($1.10) a portion.

Cyanide was used in one of Japan's most notorious multiple murder cases in 1948, when an extortionist killed 12 employees in a Tokyo bank by pretending to be a health official conducting dysentery tests.

In 1977, two high school students died after drinking a can of cyanide-laced soft drink left in a telephone booth.



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