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Construction Minister Masaaki Nakayama reiterated his readiness Tuesday to be flexible in reviewing a contentious dam planned for the Yoshino River in Tokushima Prefecture following the overwhelming rejection of the project by voters in a Sunday plebiscite in the city of Tokushima. “We have been walking and suddenly came to a stop (with the plebiscite),” he told a regular news conference after the day’s Cabinet meeting. “We would like to listen and sort out the opinions of local people and decide in which direction the next step should be taken.” Nakayama made headlines the previous day when he told a late afternoon news conference that he will be “flexible as a lawmaker if there are better ways of flood control (other than the proposed dam). I will talk with the Tokushima governor, mayor and residents and express my opinion (to the public) later.” The statement marked a shift from his rigid position prior to Sunday’s plebiscite, when he stated that the government will go ahead with the project regardless of the outcome of the vote because flood control “requires a highly expert judgment.” It was also seen as having a different nuance from the comments offered by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki on the matter. “The safety of local residents is the priority, and we will continue to seek their approval” for the project, Obuchi told reporters at his official residence Tuesday. Aoki also rejected calls for the project to be canceled, saying at a regular news conference Tuesday, “Residents’ safety will not be ensured until measures are taken to cope with a major flood. “Even if the project were to be canceled, other steps must be taken because the safety of the residents cannot be ensured otherwise,” the top government spokesman said.

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