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Gov't, firms scramble to confirm safety of Japanese staff after Dhaka hostage crisis

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks before the media at his office in Tokyo on July 2, 2016. (Mainichi)

Japanese firms and government organizations in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka scrambled to confirm the safety of their Japanese staff on July 2, after an armed attack and hostage-taking at a local restaurant.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) hastily assembled employees at its Tokyo headquarters in Chiyoda Ward to gather information on the hostage crisis. JICA implements official development assistance projects in Bangladesh, and according to an agency official, eight of its 68 Japanese employees in the country could not be reached as of noon on July 2.

"We've been aware of information that extremist groups are active and we have taken safety measures in light of the security situation there," said the official, adding, "We've got no (new) information at the moment and are in the midst of confirming (our employees') safety."

Trading giant Marubeni Corp. has nine employees stationed in Bangladesh, with some additional staff there on business trips. According to a company public relations official, the firm was able to confirm the safety of all its employees there by contacting them via phone and email since the morning of July 2.

"We're relieved for now. We must continue to confirm the safety of local staff and other parties concerned including our business partners," the public relations official told the Mainichi Shimbun.

Fast Retailing Co., operator of the globally popular Uniqlo clothing chain, has 11 Japanese employees stationed in Bangladesh, all of whose safety was confirmed, according to a public relations official.

According to major travel agency H.I.S. Co., there were no Bangladesh-bound tours organized by the agency as of July 2, and the safety of its Japanese staff stationed there had been confirmed.

"The country is popular among tourists who want to visit hidden scenic areas rather than those who prefer leisure activities. It's hard to say Bangladesh is a major tourist destination. We surmise many of those staying there are either on business or independent private trips," an H.I.S. official said. "I don't think it's a dangerous country, but who knows what will happen where nowadays?"

According to the Foreign Ministry and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), as of Oct. 1, 2015, Bangladesh hosted local offices and factories of Japanese companies including trading giants Itochu Corp. and Mitsubishi Corp., YKK Corp. and other clothing and textile manufacturers, as well as Brother Industries Ltd. and Ajinomoto Co. According to the website of the Japanese Association in Dhaka, the group had a total of 473 members as of June 2015.

In response to the murder of a Japanese man in Bangladesh in October last year, the Foreign Ministry has upgraded the travel caution for all Bangladesh from Level 1 (Exercise caution) to Level 2 (Avoid non-essential travel).

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