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The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito have compiled an outline for a fresh rescue package for Minamata disease patients who have gone officially unrecognized, featuring payment of a lump sum, coalition sources said Tuesday.

An LDP-New Komeito team on the Minamata disease issue, chaired by LDP House of Representatives member Hiroyuki Sonoda, plans to release the package around late August, the sources said.

The lump-sum payment will be the key pillar of the package. The amount will be less than the 2.6 million yen that was paid to patients who reached a political settlement in 1995.

But Chisso Corp., which caused the mercury-poisoning disaster in Kumamoto Prefecture, is believed to be reluctant to shoulder any further financial burden.

Members of the team have mostly reached a consensus that top priority should be given to aiding those who were not covered under the 1995 political settlement despite having limb disorders, a typical symptom of Minamata disease, the sources said.

The coalition team will promote talks with the unrecognized patients and Chisso and seek support from various local governments to reach a comprehensive settlement of Minamata disease problems, the sources said.

In the 1995 settlement, some 10,000 unrecognized patients were paid 2.6 million yen each by Chisso. The central and local governments also agreed to provide medical subsidies to them.

Currently, more than 1,200 people have filed lawsuits seeking court recognition as victims of the mercury-poisoning disaster.

Under the pollution relief law that went into force in 1974, those who are recognized as victims of Minamata disease are provided with 16 million yen to 18 million yen in a lump-sum payment or pension payouts.

Minamata disease, a neurological affliction caused by severe mercury poisoning, killed hundreds, disabled thousands and produced birth defects mainly in Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures.

In October 2004, the Supreme Court laid down more lenient criteria than the government-designed standards in officially recognizing Minamata disease patients, holding the government responsible for failure to prevent the spread of the disease.

For related stories:

Unrecognized Minamata patients are ailing: poll
Woman sues for Minamata recognition
Ruling party team seeks Minamata disease study

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