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Originally published Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Japanese executions at brisk pace

By hanging three convicted murderers on Tuesday, Japan ramped up the pace of capital punishment to the highest level in more than three...

TOKYO — By hanging three convicted murderers on Tuesday, Japan ramped up the pace of capital punishment to the highest level in more than three decades, bringing the number of executions to 13 in the past six months.

There is broad public support here for the death penalty, and one of those hanged on Tuesday was among the most reviled serial killers in Japan's recent history.

Tsutomu Miyazaki, 45, killed four young girls in the late 1980s and left the charred bones of one 4-year-old victim on her parents' doorstep. The Supreme Court, rejecting his final appeal, said he was motivated by a desire for sex and to make videos with his victims' corpses.

But the case focused on the defendant's mental ability to stand trial. Miyazaki told the court that the girls were killed by a "mouse-man." He asked the judge for a bicycle to pedal while in prison.

Also executed were Shinji Mutsuda, 37, who robbed and murdered two people before throwing their bodies into the ocean, and Yoshio Yamasaki, 73, who killed two people for insurance money.

Still, Japan, host next month to a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized powers, is under mounting international pressure to halt executions.

The U.N. General Assembly, in a nonbinding resolution passed in December, called on all countries to impose a moratorium on executions as a step toward abolishing the death penalty. Human-rights groups, the European Union and some Japanese legislators are also leaning on the Tokyo government to impose a moratorium.

Japan and the United States are the only G-8 members that carry out the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, 24 countries conducted executions last year.

On Tuesday, however, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda ruled out any change in policy. "The majority want it maintained," he told news agencies from the G-8 countries. "I feel there is no need to change it, but we must also keep an eye on world opinion."

In an effort to placate critics, Japan in December modified its practice of shrouding executions in secrecy. It now publicly releases the names and crimes of those hanged — on the day they are executed. Previously, the information was leaked to newspapers.

The hangings took place nine days after a young man with a knife killed seven people in a random attack in downtown Tokyo. Police said Tuesday that they had arrested four people who used the Internet to threaten similar attacks.

There is rising anxiety in Japan about violent crime, though the rate of random violent attacks has not increased significantly in the past decade.

The country was stunned by the stabbing rampage in Tokyo's Akihabara shopping district.

"I think the timing of today's executions on the heels of the Akihabara killings," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asia studies at Temple University Japan, "was designed to send out a reassuring message to the Japanese people that the full sentence will be carried out."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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