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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Death call for Japan cult leader
Shoko Asahara
Shoko Asahara claimed he was the messiah
Prosecutors in Japan have called for the death penalty against cult leader Shoko Asahara, who is accused of masterminding a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Seven years since the trial began, the prosecution ended its case against Shoko Asahara on Thursday, although the verdict is not expected until mid-2003.

Mr Asahara - the founder of the Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth, movement - stands accused of a series of crimes which shocked Japan.

Nine members of Aum Shinrikyo have already been sentenced to death for their part in the Tokyo attack, which killed 12 people and left thousands ill.

The cult leader has pleaded not guilty to all but one of the 13 charges he faces, but has largely remained silent throughout the trial.

Deadly gas attack

Mr Asahara entered Tokyo District Court on Thursday morning flanked by police officers.

He sat in silence as the prosecution began its final arguments, even yawning at one point as the statements were read out.

Queue outside the court
Despite the lengthy trial, there is still great public interest in the case
The most serious charge against the 48-year-old cult leader, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is the deadly sarin attack on Tokyo's subway on 20 March 1995.

The attack targeted stations close to central government offices during the morning rush hour.

Former cult members have said the attack was intended to overthrow the government and lead to Armageddon.

Mr Asahara has also been accused of ordering the murder of the entire family of an anti-Aum lawyer in 1989, as well as another sarin attack in Nagano in 1994, which killed seven people.

He has also been charged with a series of assaults and kidnappings, as well as illegal arms production.

Prosecutors say he was involved in a total of 26 deaths altogether.

Mr Asahara founded the Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1984, and by the 1990s he claimed 10,000 loyal followers.

He told them he was the reincarnation of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.

Slow process

Correspondents say Mr Asahara's trial highlights Japan's notoriously slow judicial process.

Criminal trials often go on for years because of long breaks between each court session.

Mr Asahara's trial has been further hampered by the large number of crimes he has been accused of, as well as the complexity of the evidence put forward.

The defence team is set to make its final statements in October, but correspondents sat the final verdict may still be months away.

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