Pop group’s fan event ends in bloodshed

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IOL pic may26 japan all girl pop group attacked Reuters The Japanese all-girl pop group AKB48, led by Rino Sashihara (centre), performs on stage during a gala dinner in Tokyo in 2013. Two members of AKB48 were wounded when a man wielding a saw assaulted them at an event in Iwate on May 25, 2014. File picture: Toshifumi Kitamura

Tokyo -

Two members of the Japanese girl group AKB48 were admitted to hospital after being attacked by a man wielding a saw at one of the band's regular meet-the-fans events, police said on Monday.

Rina Kawaei, 19, and Anna Iriyama, 18, both broke bones in their right hands and received cuts on their arms and heads caused by the 50cm saw at the event in Iwate in northern Japan.

Reports said the attack came after a mini concert early on Sunday afternoon as fans were lining up to shake hands with performers inside booths.

Kawaei and Iriyama were inside the same booth when a man in the queue suddenly produced a saw, the Yomiuri daily said.

Fans told Japanese media they heard a shriek, apparently from one of the young women.

Some of the 100 or so staff and security guards at the event pounced on the attacker and held him until police arrived, reports said.

One fan described how Kawaei was covered in blood when she was taken away by medics to a waiting ambulance.

A 24-year-old man, identified as unemployed Satoru Umeta, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, police said.

“We have started questioning the suspect this morning to know details, including his motive,” a detective with Iwate prefectural police told AFP.

AKB48 is part talent show, part pop act, a venture in which a pool of more than 100 girls and young women compete for a spot in the limelight when each new catchy, but formulaic, hit is released.

The group - one of the most successful acts of all time in monetary terms - is built on their being accessible to their fans, appearing at regular events all over the country to shake hands and pose for pictures, as well as on social networking sites.

Members must strive constantly for popularity if they wish to retain their spot, and girls who contravene strict rules - such as having boyfriends - are punished by being dropped back into the general talent pool.

Where line-up changes often sound the death-knell for musical acts, the frequent rotation of AKB's members is key to keeping them at the top of their game in Japan's fickle pop scene.

Fans are currently voting for the girl they want to lead the collective for the next year, using ballot slips only available with the purchase of their newest single. The results will be announced in a nationally televised extravaganza on June 7.

Violent crime is rare in Japan. Carrying a blade without reason - including a pair of scissors, a box-cutter or a survival knife - is banned, while possession of guns is strictly limited to legal hunters. - Sapa-AFP

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