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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Japan cult ends stand-off
Suspected cult group members, all clad in white from head to toe, hold mirror-like shields as they face off with local police officers
The group held up mirrors as shields

Members of a mysterious cult who have been engaged in a stand-off with police on a mountain road in central Japan have finally moved on to an unknown destination.

The group, which calls itself the Pana Wave Laboratory, initially refused to move until the end of this week. Members insisted they were caring for a seriously ill woman believed to be their leader.

But their caravan of vehicles began pulling out of Thursday, after police searched their vehicles on suspicion they had broken traffic laws, said a spokesman for the prefectural police in Gifu.

The cult, whose members are clad entirely in white, is reported to believe that the world will be devastated on 15 May by natural disasters, caused by a reversal of the magnetic pole.

The group has reportedly been on the move across Japan for the last 10 years.

Police said no arrests were made on Thursday, and it was not clear where the caravan was headed. About 300 officers had been sent to the road in Gifu's Yamato town.

Earlier, national police chief Hidehiko Sato told a news conference that Pana Wave Laboratory resembled the feared Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth cult, which carried out a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

"We don't know what they're really thinking or what they might do," a police officer in the nearby town of Hachiman told Reuters news agency.

An official with the cult told reporters earlier this week that a communist group was seeking to take the life of their leader by trying to kill her with a weapon using electromagnetic waves.

Japanese newspapers said that a pamphlet issued last year by a religious cult that evolved into Pana Wave Laboratory said that if its leader died, its members would "exterminate all humankind at once".

The group had draped its cars and the surrounding trees with white cloth, which it claimed neutralised the effects of harmful electromagnetic waves.

Members wear surgical-style white robes, flowing headgear and facemasks.

Last week, prosecutors called for the death penalty against Aum founder Shoko Asahara, who is accused of masterminding the 1995 Tokyo subway attack.

A verdict is not expected until mid-2003.

Aum has now reformed as Aleph, and has renounced violence.

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