• Kyodo

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A civic group in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, formally asked its election management committee Friday to hold a referendum on recalling Mayor Toshiaki Okano.

The group in late December submitted the signatures of 23,405 eligible voters to the committee, more than the one-third needed to seek a recall.

The group wants Okano recalled for breaking his 2006 election pledge and closing a city-run hospital that was facing a serious shortage of doctors. In January, Okano submitted a motion seeking to invalidate the signatures, but the committee rejected it.

Okano was elected mayor in July 2006, pledging to keep Choshi General Hospital open. But he closed it last September, citing financial difficulties and the shortage of doctors.

The civic group reacted to the closure, collecting signatures since Nov. 22, saying the mayor had reneged on his policy pledge.

“The mayor is the culprit behind the hospital closure,” said Kaoru Mogi, head of the group. “He should step down immediately.”

“A recall will simply invite confusion in and stagnation of municipal administration,” Okano said in a comment released Friday. “(The hospital closure) received the approval of the municipal assembly and it was not something I implemented solely.”

The mayor earlier criticized the civic group for failing to present specific measures for operating a new hospital on a financially sound basis.

Civic group officials have said it is considering drawing up a blueprint for a new hospital.

Okano will lose his job if a majority votes to recall him in the referendum, which must be held within 60 days.

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