Japanese hostage rescued in tense, violent standoff with gunman

Japanese police rescued a hostage Friday 24 hours after she was taken captive by her ex-husband in a shooting spree that killed one policeman and left three other people wounded.

Riot police carried the woman - identified as Michiko Mori - away from the house where she was taken hostage on Thursday. She appeared to be unhurt.

National broadcaster NHK showed the woman walking out of the house in Nagakute city west of Tokyo, before a police agent in riot gear hoisted her on his back and carried her to safety. As they carried her from the home, police surrounded her with shields, but there were no reports of further gunshots.

Mori, 50, was taken hostage on Thursday when her ex-husband, Hisato Obayashi, also 50, went on a shooting spree at his home, shooting the couple's son, daughter and two policemen, said a local police spokesman who identified himself only by his family name, Watanabe.

Watanabe confirmed the woman had been rescued.

Obayashi was apparently still holed up in the house.

One of the policemen died from his wounds. News reports said Obayashi was a former mobster affiliated with Japan's largest crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, but his motive for the rampage was not known.

The violence in the suburb of Nagoya erupted after an unidentified emergency caller to police cried, "My father has gone berserk with a gun!" Kyodo News agency reported.

On Friday, about 170 policemen surrounded the house. Police said Obayashi's wounded daughter had been cooperating with police and spoke with her father several times, urging him to surrender.

In 2005, Mori reported to police she had been abused by Obayashi, and the shooting might be related to their relationship problems, Kyodo said.

On Friday morning as the deadlock continued, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki condemned the gunman and urged government officials to step up gun control measures.

"This is a gun crime that clearly threatens the peace of public life. It is absolutely unacceptable," Shiozaki said.

Sanae Takaichi, the head of a government gun-control task force, called for "drastic, tougher gun control-measures."

Police say Obayashi took the woman hostage, shot his children - Kento Obayashi, 25, and Risa Obayashi, 21 - and then shot at police responding to the emergency call.

Riot police officer Kazuho Hayashi, 23, was shot in the chest and died while evacuating a policeman wounded earlier. Hayashi was a member of a special police assault team that handles hijackings and hostage crises.

An on-duty policeman was last shot to death in 2001 by a 52-year-old robber who fired a rifle inside a taxi company in Japan's northeastern Tochigi prefecture (state), according to the National Police Agency.

All the wounded were later hospitalized, but their conditions were not life-threatening.

According to witness accounts, several people were arguing outside the suspect's house Thursday before the sound of several gunshots rang out, the national daily Asahi reported.

NHK quoted neighbors saying they have occasionally heard angry shouts coming from the gunman's house.

Police cordoned off the residential area surrounding Obayashi's home, urging neighbors not to go outside, Watanabe said. Schools in the area suspended classes Friday.

The incident came just a month after the fatal shooting of the mayor of Nagasaki by an organized crime chief, and a gangster shooting in a Tokyo suburb only a few days later.

The use and possession of guns is relatively alien to the Japanese public. Handguns are strictly limited to police and other professionals such as shooting instructors. Hunting rifles are also licensed and strictly regulated.

Crime syndicates, however, have smuggled foreign guns into Japan. Of the 53 shootings reported in 2006, two-thirds were blamed on organized crime groups, the police agency says.

Analysts say the recent shootings indicate that gangsters are financially strapped and facing difficulty in keeping their turf after the government stepped up anti-gang measures in the 1990s.

Japan's organized crime groups are typically involved in real estate and construction kickback schemes, extortion, gambling, the sex industry and drug trafficking.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova