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Fire devastates Hakodate, Dalai Lama on the run, leftists protest Narita airport expansion

by Edan Corkill

YEARS AGO

Friday, Mar. 23, 1934

1,000 dead as fire destroys Hakodate

Approximately 1,000 persons are reported to have been killed and a greater number injured in the conflagration which destroyed about four-fifths of the city of Hakodate, chief port of Hokkaido, Wednesday night. More than 30,000 homes and shops were burned.

Starting at 7 p.m. in the southern end of Hakodate when a storm blew down the chimney of a public bathhouse, the flames quickly spread and raged through the city for 12 1/2 hours, being brought under control this morning when the wind subsided.

Hakodate firemen battled valiantly to control the blaze in its earlier stages, but the extreme wind made their efforts futile. Of the city’s 40,000 houses, 30,000 structures were demolished and 150,000 persons are reportedly homeless.

Exact figures are unobtainable as communication was severed with the burning of the wireless station, telephone and telegraph offices and JOVK radio broadcasting station. Scanty details have been reported by wireless from the Tenyu Maru, a ship anchored in Hakodate harbor.

50 YEARS AGO

Tuesday, Mar. 31, 1959

Tibetan tragedy

Communist China is now blaming India for what is obviously nothing more than their deep concern regarding the recent happenings in Tibet.

Considering all the circumstances of the case and the long history of the neighborly connection between India and Tibet, it is only natural that Indian people should feel profoundly interested in the fate of the mountain country.

It may perhaps also be pointed out to Peiping (Beijing) that the rest of mankind is also interested in the future of Tibet and that any attempt to destroy the Tibetan people will be regarded with horror and disgust throughout the world.

The cruel subjugation of Hungary and the destruction of Hungarian liberties by Soviet Russia (in 1956) were perhaps believed in Moscow to be necessary for the purpose of erecting a Western bulwark for its own defense, but Peiping can hardly urge that it was necessary to interfere in Tibetan affairs to the extent of sending a Communist army into Tibet and attempting to undermine the country’s traditional manner of life.

The population of the country is probably not more than 1 1/2 million, and many inhabitants are engaged in a religious profession, so it cannot be seriously maintained that they constitute any menace to Red China with its 600 million people and large armaments.

Nor is there any country bordering on Tibet that constitutes a threat to China. Soviet Russia is a near neighbor, of course, but the only other country close to Tibet, apart from China, is India.

India has consistently striven for good relations with Red China ever since she achieved independence from British rule. She watched Peiping’s tightening grip on Tibet with a feeling of its needlessness for some years, but agreed to fall in with Red Chinese wishes so far as she was affected.

Now comes the allegation from China that Kalimpong, a market town near Darjeeling in Indian territory, is the headquarters of a Tibetan movement against Red China. Kalimpong has for years been regarded as the link between Tibet and the Western world — India being considered as part of the Western world for this purpose — but it has never had any political significance, and nothing could be more unlikely than that the Indian Government would allow it to be used for political intrigues, whether by Tibetans or Indians.

Meanwhile, Peiping has dissolved the Tibetan Local Government and taken measures to exercise as much control as possible over the country, while thousands of Red Chinese soldiers are reported to be fanning out from Lhasa in an attempt to secure the Dalai Lama. The Chinese Reds allege that the Dalai Lama has been “abducted by traitorous elements,” but it seems likely that he has made his escape from the Potala (his palace in Lhasa) of his own accord.

It does not seem likely that the Tibetans will be able to resist for long the overwhelming forces that the Peiping regime can bring against them, but it is difficult to see that the Reds have much to gain from the loss of Tibetan liberties.

Tibet is known to possess considerable mineral resources, and the Reds are supposed to have harbored some idea of replacing the native inhabitants with more amenable Chinese immigrants, but the inhospitable climate and the difficult geographical features are hardly appropriate to such ideas. The world — or at least the non-Communist part of it — will hope that this small but interesting nation will be spared from genocide.

25 YEARS AGO

Tuesday, Mar. 27, 1984

Narita extremists use flame-thrower

Anti-airport extremists using a makeshift flame thrower Thursday torched part of a building in Tokyo that houses the New Tokyo International Airport Corp., police said. No casualties were reported.

The Chukakuha (Middle-core faction), a leftist group, claimed they conducted the attack in their struggle against the construction of a second runway at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture.

Police said the fire, triggered by a gas burner loaded on a truck parked on the elevated Shuto Expressway, took place around 5:55 a.m. and burned part of the sixth and seventh floors of the Nihonbashi Hommachi Building in central Tokyo. The headquarters of the Narita Airport Authority is on the seventh and eighth floors of the building.

The terrorist attack took place as extremist groups vowed to step up their opposition to the controversial airport.

Metropolitan Police Department officials said they have increased security around airport facilities, U.S. military and Self-Defence Force facilities — the usual targets of attacks by radical groups.

In this feature, which appears in TIMEOUT on the third Sunday of each month along with our regular Week 3 stories, we delve into The Japan Times’ 112-year-old archive to present a selection of stories from the past. Stories may be edited for brevity.