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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Japan police raid doomsday cult
Pana Wave member surrounded by police
Police swooped on the cult's headquarters in Fukui

Japanese police have raided buildings and vehicles belonging to a mysterious cult which has been leading a caravan around the country in an attempt to evade "electromagnetic wave attacks".

Investigators searched the premises of the Pana Wave Laboratory in Fukui, western Japan, as well of some of the cult's dome-shaped shelters north of Tokyo, and about two dozen vehicles, police said on Wednesday.

Officially, the group's facilities were being searched for the presence of falsified vehicle registrations - so far, the most serious accusation levelled against the group.

But according to the Japanese media, the investigation may also have been an attempt to assess the potential threat posed by the cult.

The group has been compared with the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which carried out a deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway network in 1995.

After the Tokyo subway attack, police were heavily criticised for failing to act in time against Aum, despite warnings that it had turned from a small yoga-practising group into a terrorist organisation.

Pana Wave's activities have dominated the country's media since late last month, when members blocked a road in central Japan for a week.

Members of white costume cult drive their vans decorated with spiral patterned stickers
The group has so far only been accused of traffic offences

Members of the group are said to believe that the world will end sometime this month, because of a reversal of the magnetic poles.

They also reportedly believe that communists are trying to kill their 69-year-old leader, Yuko Chino, using electromagnetic waves.

Cult members wear white clothes in the belief that this will protect them from these harmful rays, which they say are generated by power lines and "left-wing elements".

The cult also has a well-publicised interest in a lost seal named Tama-chan, which has become a national celebrity in Japan since appearing in a Tokyo river last year.

Members of Pana Wave believe electromagnetic waves led Tama-chan thousands of miles away from his arctic home.

Pana Wave is said to have been founded by Yuko Chino in the late 1970s, and has a membership of between several hundred and more than 1,000 people.

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