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Hundreds of Japanese police search island hideouts for escaped thief

Tatsuma Hirao, 27, fled from prison in Ehime prefecture while serving five-and-a-half years for theft.

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

Tatsuma Hirao, 27, has been at large since Sunday, when he fled from prison in Ehime prefecture while serving five-and-a-half years 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 being stopped at checkpoints, causing rare traffic jams on the usually quiet island.

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

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