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CHIBA (Kyodo) A referendum to recall Mayor Toshiaki Okano of Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, will be held March 29 amid growing public anger over his closing of a city-run hospital in contradiction to his campaign promises.

If he loses the vote, Okano will be kicked out of office and his successor will be elected within 50 days.

“The purpose of this (referendum for) recall is to create disorder in the administration,” Okano said in a hastily arranged news conference.

A citizens’ group asked the local election management committee last month to hold a referendum on recalling Okano after submitting a petition signed by about 23,000 eligible voters, exceeding the one-third threshold of 20,229 needed to trigger a recall.

The group said Okano broke his 2006 campaign pledge and closed Choshi General Hospital, which was short of doctors.

When Okano ran in July 2006, he pledged to keep the hospital open. He ended up closing it in September 2008, citing financial difficulties and the doctor shortage.

The upcoming referendum could give have a great impact on other municipalities that face similar difficulties in running hospitals.

“Most Choshi residents have already made up their minds. We would like to continue our movement (to reopen the hospital) for the 15 former patients who died after being forced to move to other hospitals,” Kaoru Mogi, head of the civic group, said Monday.

Because the hospital closed down, businesses targeting hospital patients and visitors, including pharmacies and a flower shop, had to close down as well, dealing a blow to the local economy, the group said.

Okano released a statement saying the closure was inevitable to protect the city. “I hope people of Choshi will cast their ballots calmly with great consideration for the city’s future,” the statement said.

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