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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Nine die in Japan 'suicide pacts'
A blue sheet is covered on a car, left, where seven young men and women were found dead in a mountainside lot at Minano, near Tokyo, on Tuesday October 12, 2004
Seven bodies were found inside a van in the Saitama mountains
Japanese police have found the bodies of nine people who apparently committed suicide after meeting via special suicide sites on the internet.

A police spokesman said seven young people were found in a van in the Saitama mountains to the west of Tokyo.

Minutes later, two women were found dead in a car south of Tokyo, in another apparent suicide pact.

Japan has recently seen a wave of internet-linked suicides, as people seek companions to die with.

More than 34,000 Japanese took their own lives in 2003, according to the National Police Agency - an increase of more than 7% from the previous year.

Economic difficulties and an increasing sense of isolation among Japanese youth are believed to be contributing to the rise.

A small but growing number of suicide attempts are being made by people brought together through the internet.

Analysts have speculated that group suicide may mitigate the inherent loneliness of taking one's life alone.

The BBC's Tokyo correspondent says dozens of suicide websites have appeared in recent years offering advice to those who plan to kill themselves.

Poisoned

The three women and four men who died in Saitama were all reportedly in their teens or early 20s.

It was probably the largest group suicide in Japan so far, police said.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The most severe problem in Japan is its poor mental health care system
Yuka Sato, Yokohama, Japan

This group and the two women found in Kanagawa are believed by police to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of charcoal burners in their cars.

"We believe they all died after inhaling carbon monoxide from the charcoal," a police spokesman said of the seven found in Saitama. "We believe they got acquainted through the internet."

"We found no traces of violence that could have otherwise led to their deaths," he said.

Investigators had yet to establish whether the two cases were related.

Our correspondent says suicide has become a widely discussed topic on many websites, and there is even a guidebook to the best places to kill yourself.

The authorities have talked about closing down or regulating the websites.

But organisers argue that they offer a compassionate service to those who have given up all hope of the future.

Increasing numbers of young people in Japan are feeling alienated by modern life. Several thousand are termed "hikikomori" - recluses who never leave their room, finding entertainment only on the internet.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How it is thought the suicides were planned



SEE ALSO:
Why are suicide pacts on the rise in Japan?
12 Oct 04  |  Have Your Say
Japan's free spirits
30 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Japan suicides reach record high
23 Jul 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Japan's slump fuels suicides
25 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Japan
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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