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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Stampede at curry poison trial

Pictures of the fatal summer festival shown on Japanese TV

In Japan, 5,000 people have tried to get in to see the trial of a woman accused of a mass poisoning in which four people died and 63 others were made ill.

The BBC's Juliet Hindell: " A sensational trial that will last 2 years"
Masumi Hayashi is suspected of having put arsenic into a curry made for consumption at a village festival in western Japan last July.

The Wakayama courtroom was flooded with people who turned up in the hope of getting a ticket for one of the 80 public seats.

[ image: Masumi Hayashi - former insurance saleswoman charged with murder]
Masumi Hayashi - former insurance saleswoman charged with murder
On the first day of her trial, the former insurance saleswoman denied the murder charges against her.

"I am not related at all to this [curry poisoning] case," Japanese media quoted Masumi Hayashi as saying.

She also faces other charges of insurance fraud in connection with other poisonings.

The curry incident caused a sensation in Japan and is believed to have inspired at least 40 other poisoning cases.

Notorious case

Masumi Hayashi immediately became the prime suspect when it was learned that she had already been accused of trying to poison visitors to her home.

Juliet Hindell in Tokyo: "The Japanese media has gone overboard in its coverage"
Her alleged motive in these cases and the curry poisoning was to cash in life insurance policies which she had taken out on the victims.

Among the rash of copycat poisonings were several fatalities.

One man died after drinking a canned drink spiked with cyanide and earlier this week a man admitted in court that he had tried to poison his colleagues to distract attention from his embezzlement plot.

In September, a 15-year-old junior high school girl confessed to posting bottles of lethal disinfectant, labelled to resemble diet drinks, to her teacher and 26 classmates.

Masumi Hayashi's case is extremely complicated, with the prosecution's opening arguments running to 200 pages.

It is expected that the trial will take several years to complete.

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