• Kyodo

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Two local governments and a security company being sued by relatives of people killed in a fatal crush after a fireworks display admitted Friday they are liable for compensation but rejected the plaintiffs’ reasons for responsibility.

Eleven people were killed and 247 people were injured in the crush on a pedestrian overpass July 21, 2001, in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture. Nine of the dead were children aged between 5 months and 9 years. The remaining two were in their 70s.

The 850 million yen damages suit was lodged in October at the Kobe District Court by families of eight of the people who died against the Hyogo Prefectural Government, the municipal government of Akashi, and Nisikan Co., a Fukuoka-based security firm.

Friday’s session was the first in the case.

The prefectural government, which is responsible for supervising the prefectural police, admitted the police could have foreseen such an accident and taken steps to prevent it.

But it argued that the accident grew out of the combined errors of the three defendants, and disputed the plaintiffs’ claim that the police are primarily to blame.

The Akashi government also admitted it had a duty to prevent such an accident and thus has a responsibility to compensate the victims’ families.

But it denied a claim by the plaintiffs that the accident was caused by individual errors made by the mayor.

Nisikan meanwhile admitted it holds responsibility in the accident, but argued that the amount demanded by the plaintiffs was too high.

All three parties asked the court to reject the suit.

Relatives of the eight victims addressed the court, expressing their feelings of loss and explaining why they wanted their case heard.

The families said they had asked the city and the prefectural police to find out what really happened that night and to take steps to prevent a recurrence, but were dissatisfied with the response.

They said their only avenue was to file a civil suit, adding that establishing preventive measures and finding out what really happened will give the deaths of their loved ones some meaning.

In the suit, the plaintiffs claim that the chief of the prefectural police, the mayor of Akashi and the security company failed to draw up appropriate safety measures, despite being able to predict such an accident occurring.

In addition, the defendants did nothing to stop more people from entering the overpass after it was already crammed with people, according to the suit.

In a separate action related to the incident, the an officer of Akashi Police Station, three officials of the Akashi City Government and a senior official of Nisikan were indicted in December.

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