• Kyodo


A civic group in Aichi Prefecture on Tuesday submitted to the prefectural government a demand signed by more than 310,000 registered voters to have a referendum held on the central and local governments’ plan to host the 2005 World Exposition there.

The group, headed by Ken Kageyama, a professor emeritus at Aichi University of Education, presented the books of signatures to Aichi Gov. Masaaki Kanda, legally obliging the prefectural assembly to discuss whether to hold a referendum.

The assembly is scheduled to discuss the demand in a session today.

The referendum would ask voters if they support the prefecture’s hosting of the expo but would be nonbinding.

The 310,000 signatures that have been collected by the group since March are well over the legally required minimum of about 110,000 — or one-50th of the number of eligible voters in the prefecture — needed to force such a debate.

Residents in the prefecture called for a referendum on the same issue in 1998 with nearly 120,000 signatures, but the call was rejected by the assembly.

Takashi Fukaya, the international trade and industry minister, said earlier this month that Japan will register its bid to host the expo in Aichi Prefecture, with an international expo body by late August.

Japan had initially planned to register its bid with the Paris-based International Bureau of Expositions in May, but it later decided to delay the move when the BIE asked Japan to revise the plan due to environmental concerns.

The BIE asked Japan to reconsider ways to protect rare animals living on the proposed expo site, part of which is forested, and to consult environmental groups on uses for the site after the event. The prefecture had planned to build houses on the site but scrapped the plan after it was criticized by environmental groups and the BIE.

“Preparations for the Aichi expo are progressing smoothly, with a draft plan being mapped out through discussions with environmental groups,” Fukaya told a news conference June 9.

However, there remains a strong antiexpo sentiment among Aichi residents, who fear it will seriously harm the local ecosystem and further enlarge the prefecture’s financial deficit, a member of the civic group said.

Bid organizers hope to win approval for the expo during a BIE general meeting in November or December.