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3 Die in Japan Standoff Over Pay Dispute

A truck driver in Nagoya kills two others and injures dozens when he ignites an explosive device at a firm he said owed him money.

September 17, 2003|Colin Joyce | Special to The Times

TOKYO — A disgruntled Japanese truck driver blew himself up Tuesday in a dispute over pay, killing two other people and injuring dozens in central Japan.

The dramatic explosion in the city of Nagoya ended a three-hour standoff that began just after 10 a.m. when Noboru Beppu, 52, strode into the office of the Keikyubin delivery firm armed with gasoline in two 18-liter plastic containers, a 10-inch knife and a crossbow.

Such crimes are rare in Japan. The siege was broadcast live and commanded hours of shocked discussion on national television.

One man was slightly injured as he attempted to prevent Beppu from barricading the office and taking 31 people hostage. Beppu reportedly doused the office in gasoline and demanded three months' back pay, about $2,100.

All the hostages were released in the hours before the explosion except the branch manager, 41-year-old Kunio Yoshikawa, who died along with Beppu. The explosion also killed a 31-year-old policeman, Ta- tsuya Murase, as he and other officers waited on the floor below for a chance to storm the office.

Beppu released seven hostages just minutes before the explosion, after robbing them of over $600 in cash. One of the hostages told a news conference that the suspect was "so calm it was weird."

The explosion shortly after 1 p.m. blew out windows, showering glass on police and firefighters. Forty-one people were injured, four seriously. The fire took two hours to bring under control.

Beppu had worked for the firm since January on a franchise contract, making deliveries using his own truck. He had reportedly complained about the sporadic work and low pay. Yesterday, he demanded that his wages from July to September be paid immediately.

The company said it had been paying Beppu in the normal manner at a lag of about two months. Yesterday, the company complied with Beppu's demand and transferred the money to his account just an hour before the explosion.

Japan's Consumer Information Center said it had 531 calls last year from workers on delivery-firm franchise contracts, up from 323 in 2000, complaining about poor working conditions.

Beppu's 74-year-old mother-in-law told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper that he brought her flowers Monday, which was Respect for the Aged Day in Japan. She said: "I was delighted that my daughter had married such a good man. I never thought he would cause such a terrible incident. He never came to me for money, and I never heard anything about debts."

Neighbors from the public housing complex where Beppu lived with his wife and two children told Japanese television that he was well mannered and helpful but said he was having financial difficulties.

The crime has shocked a country that once prided itself on its safety.

Takako Iida, a 56-year-old Tokyo homemaker, said: "I don't think there were such incidents in Japan a few years ago. But recently it seems serious crimes are increasing as people allow their worries to lead them into negative emotions. I used to hear of frightening cases overseas of people firing off guns, but now it is becoming scary because I get the impression Japan is getting more like that."

This year, a taxi driver was sentenced to death for killing five workers by setting fire to a consumer credit office in a robbery in Aomori, in northern Japan.

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Rie Sasaki in The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.

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