Hundreds of Japanese police on manhunt for escaped thief

Police officers inspect cars at a checkpoint in Onomichi, Hiroshima prefecture. (Shingo Nishizume, Kyodo News via AP)
Police officers inspect cars at a checkpoint in Onomichi, Hiroshima prefecture. (Shingo Nishizume, Kyodo News via AP)

Hundreds of Japanese police are in pursuit of a convicted thief who escaped from a prison and landed on a tiny island with abundant hideouts – some 1 000 homes made vacant by an aging and shrinking population.

The 27-year-old Tatsuma Hirao has been at large since Sunday when he fled from prison in Ehime prefecture while serving five years and six months for theft.

Police suspect he drove a stolen car and crossed a bridge to the nearby island of Mukaishima, near Hiroshima, which has a population of about 16 000.

TV footage shows police visiting every home and searching empty houses and huts. Vehicles are stopped at checkpoints, causing a rare traffic jam on the usually quiet island.

Several cases of thefts have been reported to police since the jailbreak.

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