TOKYO - Japanese police called Wednesday for nationwide vigilance against possible gang violence following a rift in the largest "yakuza" organised crime syndicate.
The warning came from the National Police Agency at an emergency meeting with special officers from the nation's 47 prefectures.
The Yamaguchi-gumi, regarded as Japan's biggest crime syndicate, boasts 23,000 members and associates.
Local reports have said the syndicate expelled 13 leaders of its member factions and that 11 were moving to form a new group - which could ally with other mobsters to build a new syndicate.
Like the Italian Mafia and Chinese triads, the yakuza engage in everything from gambling, drugs and prostitution to loan sharking, protection rackets and white-collar crime.
But unlike their foreign counterparts, they are not illegal and each of the designated groups have their own headquarters.
"We don't have specific information thus far that the rift will develop into inter-gang conflicts, but there were incidents in the past which involved civilians," said Takashi Kinoshita, chief of the national police agency's department handling organised crime.
"I want you to report swiftly to the NPA on any signs for conflicts," he said.
Kinoshita also told the officers, who specialise in yakuza crime, to "use this opportunity and step up actions to weaken and wipe out criminal syndicates, namely the Yamaguchi-gumi".
Periodic crackdowns and police efforts to choke off Yamaguchi-gumi's funding sources have gained momentum.
Experts say adverse publicity and Japan's weak economy have also hit the syndicate and made membership less attractive for potential recruits.