Yeltsin visits Japan under heavy guard

October 12, 1993|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin moved yesterday from the heavy Russian power he had thrown against his opponents in Moscow to a huge force of Japanese security officers to protect him here.

An estimated 10,000 riot-geared officers surrounded the Russian Embassy and spread throughout the adjacent mazelike streets. The three-day trip concludes tomorrow and the Japanese appear intent upon a tranquil visit.

In front of the embassy sits a gray tanklike vehicle with a hose in back and a narrow turret on top, apparently capable of spraying water on unruly demonstrators. Dozens of buses and vans filled with security forces clog the streets. Signs in English and Japanese near the embassy warn people walking by that they may be searched.

During the past week, black trucks with mounted loudspeakers have been broadcasting anti-Yeltsin diatribes and demanding the return of what Japan calls the "Northern Territories," several small islands off the country's northeastern coast. These islands were seized by Russia at the end of World War II during the brief interval between the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Japan's surrender.

Several hundred of these trucks are expected to converge on Tokyo this week but the cacophony and the disruption will likely be minimized by the odd rules governing protests here. The trucks are often followed by police, who measure the sound volume to ensure adherence to local noise ordinances. When the trucks approach important government buildings, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, road blocks emerge instantly blocking access. The demonstrators pause briefly, yell slogans through their loudspeakers, and then move on. Traffic is never seriously delayed.

Last Tuesday smoke bombs were tossed into the Russian Embassy compound. A day later, two young men, said to be members of an ultra-right-wing group, were arrested in connection with the incident.

Security immediately became more evident. Officers dressed in black began appearing late at night in the darkest recesses of streets near the embassy, which sits amid a central business and residential area.

Mr. Yeltsin's visit comes only a week after his victory over hard-line foes in the Russian Parliament.

Twice before during the past 13 months, Mr. Yeltsin cited domestic upheaval as cause for canceling a previously scheduled trip to Japan. The cancellations were considered deeply insulting by many Japanese and incentives had been included in this meeting to almost guarantee attendance.

Japan has appropriated $5 billion in loans and grants to Russia. According to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, little of the money has actually been dispersed.

Ironically, now that Mr. Yeltsin has come, Japanese enthusiasm for the visit has waned. Concern over recent events in Russia and a sense that the Russian administration may be too weak to provide much benefit to Japan, particularly concerning the Northern Territories, has caused several members of the Diet, Japan's parliament, to say Japan should withdraw its welcome.

Emperor Akihito presided over a morning welcoming ceremony today for the Russian leader, who later was to have a luncheon with top business leaders and meet with Prime Minister Mirihiro Hosokawa.

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