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Monday, August 10, 1998 Published at 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Tea poisoning scare in Japan

Japanese police are investigating what is thought to be an attempt at mass poisoning in the north of the country.

Ten people have been taken to hospital after drinking green tea.

Initial reports said the tea may have been tainted with cyanide, but Japanese police said later that tests had found no trace of cyanide.

All 10 were employees at the same small company, and became ill after drinking the tea at their office near the city of Niigata.

Juliet Hindell: "People are very unsettled"
The employees suffered vomiting, fainting and numbness in their hands and feet, and were rushed to hospital for treatment.

The BBC correspondent in Tokyo, Juliet Hindell, says it appears that the poison was placed in the kettle used to heat the water for the tea.

A spokesman for the National Police Agency said it could be a copycat crime, resembling a mass poisoning that killed four people and affected at least 60 others in western Japan last month.

There, the victims had been attending a summer festival, and had eaten curry laced with arsenic and cyanide.

It is still not clear how the substances were added to the food. The poisoning is thought to be an act of revenge for a local feud, but no-one has so far been arrested.

The curry poisoning aroused intense interest in Japan, and our correspondent says that much of the media coverage amounted to an instruction brochure on how to carry out a poisoning.

According to our correspondent, the two incidents have made people unsettled, and wary of accepting food that is served in public places.

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