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The number of Japanese nationals in Iraq rose to 40 as of Sunday morning, after three Japanese entered the country from Jordan, the Foreign Ministry said.

Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the government is trying to dissuade people from entering Iraq to serve as “human shields” in protest of the U.S.-led war in the country.

According to the ministry, the tally comprises 19 journalists, both freelance and those belonging to news organizations; 15 individuals, including members of citizens’ groups; and six members of Peace Winds Japan, a nongovernmental organization.

The NGO members are conducting medical activities with the help of the Japanese government in an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

Of the 34 journalists and individuals, 14 have indicated they would stay in the country to serve as human shields, the ministry said, adding that seven of the 14 have been registered as human shields by Iraqi authorities.

The ministry said it is now trying to stop several Japanese who plan to enter Iraq from Damascus. “I want them not to enter (Iraq),” Motegi said, adding that telephone contacts with them will become difficult once they enter.

In the surrounding region, there were 101 Japanese nationals in Bahrain, 433 in Iran, 557 in Israel, 206 in Jordan, 86 in Kuwait, 158 in Qatar, 659 in Saudi Arabia, 219 in Syria, 1,103 in Turkey and 1,390 in the United Arab Emirates, according to the ministry.

Gas mask makers up

Share prices for makers of gas masks have risen sharply with the U.S.-led war on Iraq under way.

Airlines and travel agencies, however, stand to suffer.

The figure is about three times higher than last year’s record low of 445 yen.

Shigematsu Works Co., which makes 80 percent of the protective masks for industrial use in Japan, saw a rise in its share price on the Jasdaq market. It closed at 630 yen Wednesday, one day before the attack on Iraq began Thursday morning, Japan time.

That figure was more than twice last year’s low of 250 yen. On March 10, its shares fetched an all-time high of 725 yen.

Due to fears over Iraq’s alleged possession of biological and chemical weapons, Koken Ltd. has also seen its stock price benefit. began the year’s trading with stock prices at 1,300 yen on the Jasdaq market. The company is a major producer of dust-proof and other protective masks.

Meanwhile, prospects were dim for Japan’s airlines and travel firms, given that the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States used hijacked airplanes as their weapons.

Shares in Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. fluctuated last year between a record high of 302 yen and a low of 170 yen.

On Wednesday, shares in Kinki Nippon Tourist remained in the lower end of the range, finishing at 189 yen.

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