Four convicted murderers were hanged Thursday, the first executions this year and maintaining the fast pace that saw 15 people put to death in 2008, an unusually high number for one year.

It was the second set of execution orders signed by Justice Minister Eisuke Mori, who sent two inmates to the gallows Oct. 28. He assumed the post Sept. 24. “I just conducted my duty as the justice minister,” Mori said at a news conference.

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