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Arson suspected in Japan clinic blaze with 27 feared dead (Updated)

firefighters are seen at a building where a fire broke out in osaka
Firetrucks and firefighters at the scene where the fire broke out

A fire swept through a psychiatry clinic in the Japanese city of Osaka on Friday, with 27 people feared dead and police reported to be investigating possible arson.

The blaze broke out on the fourth floor of an office building in a busy district of the western city around 10 a.m. (0100 GMT), public broadcaster NHK said.

A man who looked in his 60s was seen carrying a bag that was leaking liquid into the clinic’s reception area before the fire started, NHK said, citing people close to the probe.

More than 20 people have been confirmed dead, broadcaster TV Asahi said. An official at Osaka city’s fire department earlier told Reuters that 27 people had suffered from cardiopulmonary arrest, the term used in Japan before a death is officially confirmed. Another person was injured, the official said.

The fire was largely extinguished within 30 minutes, according to NHK. Footage showed smoke pouring out of the windows of the fourth floor, as well as the roof.

“When I looked outside I saw orange flames in the fourth-floor window of the building. A woman was waving her hands for help from the sixth floor window,” a 36-year-old woman who works in an office nearby told Kyodo News.

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Located in a shopping and entertainment district not far from Osaka’s main train station, the building also houses a beauty salon, a clothing shop and an English-language school, NHK said.

By evening most of the fire trucks were gone. The burned out, broken windows were covered with blue tarpaulin.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offered condolences and said authorities were working to determine the cause.

The father of a doctor who ran the clinic was unable to reach him by mobile phone, he told the Yomiuri newspaper. “Around noon I heard there was news of a fire on television and was surprised. My wife went to the site but we still don’t know what’s going on. I can’t get through to my son’s phone,” he said.

The clinic’s website was not accessible but an internet archive from earlier this year showed it treated patients for issues from depression and panic to sleep apnoea and anaemia.

Another woman who said she saw smoke coming from the window told Kyodo that power briefly went out in the surrounding area.

An arson attack at an animation studio in the city of Kyoto in 2019 killed more than 30 people and injured dozens.

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