Japan's 'Trial Of The Century'

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TOKYO: Japan came to a halt Wednesday as people across the country turned their attention to a Tokyo courtroom where the cult leader accused of masterminding last year's deadly subway nerve gas attack went on trial. Aum Shinrikyo cult leader Shoko Asahara did not enter a plea to charges he killed 11 people and injured more than 3,700 in last March's attack. Public interest in Japan's "trial of the century" is intense as more than 15,000 people lined up before dawn for a lottery awarding the 48 seats available to the public. Even though there are no television or still cameras allowed in the courtroom, Japanese television stations preempted regularly- scheduled programming to broadcast all day from outside the courthouse. Reporters shuttled back and forth from the courtroom to give live reports in the trial. Much of today's session was taken up with the reading of the names of 3,789 victims. Tokyo correspondent Irene Kunii says Asahara dozed off at times during the reading. Asahara faces 17 charges, including last March's subway attack and another nerve gas attack in 1994. Asahara faces the possibility of the death penalty if he is found guilty by the four- judge panel. Kunii says there is little doubt Asahara will be convicted, especially after many of his followers have already implicated him in their own trails. "Most legal analysts say that the government has enough evidence from the other cases to convict him already," Kunii says. "Asahara is waiting to enter a plea until he sees what happens in those trials. He may plea insanity, which would make it harder to sentence him to death." The trial is expected to take years, with most sessions separated by weeks or months.