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The Yokohama Municipal Assembly voted Tuesday to expel two of its members for occupying the assembly chair’s seat earlier this month to protest raising the Hinomaru flag in the chamber.

The assembly expelled Sakura Inoue and Hiroko Yonahara, both 37 and members of the Citizens Party, by a majority vote of 69 from the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan and New Komeito. Twenty-one members, mainly from the Japanese Communist Party, voted against the step.

The heaviest punishment under the Local Autonomy Law, expulsion has never been imposed on an assembly member of a major city.

Dismissals from local chambers occurred at six smaller municipalities, including the Yawata city assembly in Kyoto Prefecture, between 1990 and 2000.

In 1999, the Diet enacted a bill to officially recognize the Hinomaru flag as Japan’s national flag and “Kimigayo” as the national anthem.

The question of whether to give official status to the flag and “Kimigayo,” unofficially translated as “His Majesty’s Reign,” was a sensitive issue because of their association by some with Japan’s Imperial system and past militarism.

Prior to the assembly’s decision, Inoue and Yonahara had said they would take all legal steps available if they were expelled.

Before the vote was taken, Inoue maintained: “Hoisting the rising-sun flag concerns each individual’s patriotism. Although the flag has officially been recognized, the government denies its compulsory imposition because it can violate the freedom of thought and conscience.”

The steering committee of the municipal assembly decided on hoisting the flag, but as Inoue and Yonahara form a small parliamentary group of only two members, they were unable to voice their opinion.

The two tried to remove the flag when it was put up in the chamber for the first time on May 29, and were then ordered by the chairman to leave.

On June 5, the two called for an explanation from the chairman and occupied the seats of the chairman and head of the assembly members’ secretariat for about six hours until they were again evicted by municipal security guards on orders from the chairman.

A special disciplinary committee of assembly members that was set up in the wake of the incidents decided on the expulsion Friday on the grounds that the two disturbed the order of the chamber.

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