March 5, 2007 / 2:06 PM / 12 years ago

Metal thieves steal kids' slides, toilet roof

TOKYO (Reuters) - Children’s slides, incense holders from cemeteries and even the roof of a public toilet have disappeared in a spate of metal robberies in Japan prompted by surging steel and copper prices.

Last year, there were about 5,700 such robberies in Japan causing damages worth some 2 billion yen ($17.27 million), and the number of cases is rising, media reports said citing the National Police Agency.

There were four incidents of metals robberies on Sunday alone, including the theft of 550 kg of copper wire worth some 330,000 yen in Gifu prefecture, central Japan, media said.

Last month, thieves stole two stainless steel slides from parks in Saitama prefecture neighboring Tokyo.

“There were bolts scattered around the area, and the steps for the slides were left behind,” a town official said.

“We don’t know how heavy they were, but I think it must have taken at least two people to take them away,” he added.

Industry officials believe the metal was stolen to be sold as scrap to China, feeding a construction boom as Beijing prepares to host the 2008 Olympics.

An official at the Japan Iron and Steel Recycling Institute said demand for scrap metal was strong both on the domestic market and overseas markets in China, South Korea and Taiwan.

“With metals prices at levels where they are now, I think we will probably continue to see thefts of these kinds,” the official said.

“After all, you cannot have somebody guarding all public places around the clock,” he added.

Some 200 stainless steel containers to hold burning incense were stolen from a cemetery in Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo, in late February.

“We are still making checks about damages ... but nothing like this has ever happened before,” a cemetery official said.

Japan’s crime rate is among the lowest in Asia.

Thieves have also targeted copper, a metal with a wide range of industrial uses including construction, transport and power industries.

Last month, thieves stole the copper roof of a public toilet in Kanagawa prefecture, near Tokyo, media reports said.

Copper closed at $6,020 a ton on the London Metal Exchange on Friday, up more than 60 percent since late 2005 when demand from China started to drive prices higher.

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