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Japan orgy trial opens in China

As many as 500 local prostitutes were reportedly involved in the orgy.
As many as 500 local prostitutes were reportedly involved in the orgy.

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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- A group of 14 Chinese have gone on trial behind closed doors in southern China, accused of organizing an orgy involving hundreds of Japanese tourists and local prostitutes, court officials and media said.

The scandal has sparked outrage in China, particularly on the Internet, and embarrassed Beijing and Tokyo, close trading partners that have shown signs of growing diplomatic solidarity in the face of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Security was tight in and around Zhuhai People's Intermediate Court on Friday, with police standing by to prevent anti-Japanese protests, underlining the sensitivity of the case.

"The entire building was shut down today and will be closed again tomorrow to try this one case," a court official who declined to be identified said by telephone.

The verdict was expected on Saturday.

It was unclear how the defendants, consisting mostly of suspected pimps, pleaded. But they face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of "organizing prostitution."

State media have said the orgy at a five-star hotel in the coastal city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province in September involved about 400 Japanese tourists and 500 Chinese prostitutes.

It sparked fury in China as the incident ended on September 18 -- the 72nd anniversary of the start of Japan's occupation of China's northeast.

No Japanese have been indicted in the case so far, drawing angry comments on the bulletin board of Web site www.sina.com.cn.

"Why were those who went whoring not on trial?" one said.

"Chinese should unite and boycott Japanese goods," said another.

Sina's bulletin board has been flooded with more than 34,000 entries on Japan-related issues. The time period was unclear.

The Japanese Embassy in Beijing could not be reached for comment.

The 22-storey hotel was closed for about two months and reopened in early December, a hotel spokesman said.

Prostitution is technically illegal in China but has become rife in the past two decades with the launch of economic reforms.

Sina said the defendants included two executives of the Zhuhai International Conference Centre Hotel, where state media says the two-day orgy took place.

Japan's top government spokesman has pledged to investigate.

The Japanese construction company whose workers were reported to have been most involved said some employees were in the hotel at the time but denied there had been an orgy.

A Chinese foreign Ministry ministry spokesman called the incident "odious," but the government is eager to avert a diplomatic fallout and has not fanned ant-Japanese sentiment.

Despite increasingly closer ties in tourism, trade and investment, antagonism towards Japan is never far below the surface in China, where millions were killed or wounded during about 14 years of often-brutal Japanese occupation.

Ordinary Chinese often find occasions to vent old gripes, such as visits by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a contentious shrine for war veterans and compensation claims filed by Chinese women forced to work as sex slaves during the occupation.

Most recently, more than a million Chinese signed an online petition demanding Japan compensate victims poisoned by World War Two-era chemical weapons unearthed in China.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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