Page last updated at 05:31 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 06:31 UK

Four prisoners executed in Japan

Japanese Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama
Justice Minister Hatoyama says the public back the death penalty

Four death row prisoners have been executed in Japan, the authorities have announced.

The four inmates, aged between 41 and 64, were hanged at separate locations in Japan, the justice ministry said.

Japan, one of the few industrialised countries to retain the death penalty, appears to be stepping up the pace of prisoner executions.

Three capital sentences were carried out in February, as well as nine executions in 2007.

Human rights groups are critical of the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan.

Relatives are told only after the hangings have taken place and, until December 2007, the names of those executed were not publicly announced.

But justice ministry officials and opinion polls suggest that there is considerable support for the death penalty among the Japanese public.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama played down talk of an acceleration in executions.

"I have not paid any attention to the interval (since February's executions)," he told reporters.

"As justice minister, I am simply carrying out the demands of the law."

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