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Blinded boys poignant touch

Tokyo, June 14 (Reuters): A partially blinded Iraqi boy brought to Japan for treatment as one of the last deeds of a Japanese freelance journalist slain in Iraq met the mans widow today to offer his thanks.

Mohamad Haytham Saleh, a 10-year-old boy from the Iraqi city of Falluja, underwent surgery last Friday to restore sight in his left eye, which was cut by broken glass during a battle. Doctors believe he is likely to recover his eyesight.

Arrangements for his visit to Japan were made by Shinsuke Hashida, 61, before he was killed by gunmen south of Baghdad on May 27 along with his 33-year-old nephew and fellow journalist, Kotaro Ogawa.

Hashida had returned to Iraq partly to bring Mohamad who lost most of the sight in his left eye due to an injury suffered during fighting between US forces and insurgents to Japan for treatment.

Yukiko Hashida hugged a smiling Mohamad when the two met, stroking his head and closing her eyes before kissing him several times on each cheek. Is your eye better' she asked. I thank you, Mohamad said in halting Japanese and with an elfin smile. I really, really thank you.

Later, at a news conference, Mohamad said that his left eye no longer pained him and its general condition had improved. Asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Mohamad said: I want to be an eye doctor and heal people.

Released from hospital earlier today wearing dark glasses against the bright summer sun, Mohamad smiled and waved at around 50 people gathered at the entrance to the hospital in Shizuoka, west of Tokyo, where he was treated.

Since arriving in Japan early this month, the boy has become a familiar figure, his every move followed by media.

He seems to have taken the fuss in stride, waving and grinning for cameras, whether while wading in the ocean with his father, Haytham, or walking along hospital corridors in pyjamas with a drip in his arm.

The deaths of Hashida and Ogawa took to four the number of Japanese killed in Iraq since the start of the US-led war.

Two diplomats were killed in November near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

Japan, a close US ally, has about 550 troops around the southern city of Samawa on a mission designed to help with reconstruction work. The non-combat mission is its riskiest since World War Two and worries many voters.

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