• Kyodo

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A citizens’ group in Toyosato, Shiga Prefecture, filed a formal request Thursday to remove the mayor over an aborted plan to demolish an old school building.

The move followed the municipal election board’s announcement the day before that it had signatures from 1,892 residents, enough to begin the process of ousting Mayor Wasaburo Ono, who was pushing for the plan.

The signatures were submitted in December by the group, Toyosato Isshin-no Kai, led by Hiroshi Ito.

If the group’s request is accepted, the town will hold a referendum within 60 days on whether Ono should be booted out of office.

“While the road ahead of us is a long one, we will do our best to work hand in hand with residents toward realizing the vote,” Ito told a news conference at the town hall.

The small town is mired in a heated controversy that stemmed from the mayor’s attempt to demolish the 3,500-sq.-meter art deco school building, which housed the elementary school, and to build a new one.

The move was in line with a decision in August 2001 by a town panel that raised some concerns about the school, including that the old structure may not be strong enough to withstand a major earthquake.

The school, built in 1937, was designed by American architect William Merrell Vories, who was also a prominent missionary and entrepreneur.

On Dec. 19, a district court issued an injunction against the demolition following a request by residents, but Ono went ahead with the demolition work the next day, resulting in scuffles between workers and residents.

Some residents filed a criminal complaint Dec. 24 against Ono for damaging the building. Ono also said that day he had decided to preserve the building but said that it will not be used.

Students began the new school term Tuesday in a temporary building.

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