Japan's emperor expresses sympathy for disaster victims

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Emperor Akihito delivered his traditional New Year address on Wednesday, reiterating his sympathy for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

"I was encouraged to see many people visit the affected areas and provide support in the wake of the East Japan Great Earthquake," Emperor Akihito told more than 50,000 cheering people who gathered at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

"Together with them, I would like to continue to be with people in the affected areas," the 79-year-old emperor said from a balcony, from which members of the imperial family waved to the crowd.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and monster tsunami ravaged the country's northeast, killing some 19,000 people and crippling a nuclear power plant which leaked radiation into the environment.

The emperor and Empress Michiko have made several visits to the disaster zone and comforted victims at evacuation centres.

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