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Campaigning kicked off Thursday for Jan. 28 gubernatorial elections in Aomori and Ehime prefectures, a prelude to local elections across the nation in April.

Three people filed to challenge Aomori Gov. Morio Kimura, who is seeking a third term, and one to contend Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato, who is seeking a second term.

Along with gubernatorial elections in Yamanashi and Aichi prefectures and a mayoral election in Hiroshima slated for Feb. 2, the results could determine whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will dissolve the House of Representatives and call a general election.

Kimura, 65, is running as an independent but is supported by the tripartite ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party.

The other candidates are Hokuto Yokoyama, 39, a professor at Hirosaki Gakuin College; Ryoichi Hirano, 74, a former town mayor; and architect Koji Ishidate, 58.

All are independents.

Yokoyama is backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party and the Mushozoku no Kai group, while Hirano is backed by the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

In Ehime Prefecture, Kato, 68, and Tsukasa Wada, 50, a former teacher at a school for disabled children, are independents.

Kato is supported by the LDP, DPJ, New Komeito, Liberal Party and the SDP, while Wada is supported by the JCP.

There will be 2,361 gubernatorial, mayoral and local assembly elections held nationwide on April 13 and 27.

Eleven gubernatorial elections, including one in Tokyo, and a mayoral election in Sapporo will take place April 13, along with elections for 44 prefectural and 12 major city assemblies.

On April 27, mayors and assembly members of smaller cities, towns and villages will be elected. By-elections will also be held to fill vacancies in both houses of the Diet that day.

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