• Kyodo

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A candidate opposed to plans to use an uninhabited island off Kagoshima Prefecture for U.S. landing practice was elected the mayor of nearby Nishinoomote on Sunday.

The victory by former reporter Shunsuke Yaita, 63, throws cold water on the central government’s plan to acquire land on Mageshima Island for U.S. carrier landing practice. The island’s use as a training site was backed by only one of the three other candidates in the election.

Mageshima is about 12 km west of Nishinoomote, the main city on Tanegashima Island, where Japan’s space program is based. If military exercises were approved for Mageshima, Nishinoomote might see the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey and other U.S. military aircraft flying over the city.

Yaita will inherit the policies of Mayor Chikara Nagano, who consistently opposed the island’s use as a military practice site after the plan emerged in 2007.

The election was held twice because none of the six candidates who ran in the first one in January received the minimum number of votes required to win.

The elections were held after Nagano announced plans to retire.

Most of the land on Mageshima is owned by a private developer and the central government intended to buy the land intended for the practice site.

On a provisional basis, the U.S. military has been using Iwoto Island, about 1,200 km south of Tokyo, for carrier landing practice. The island was formerly known as Iwo Jima.

The central government is considering turning Mageshima into a permanent site for the drills because U.S. carrier-based aircraft will be moved from naval air facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture in line with a bilateral accord on realigning U.S. forces in Japan.

The government also envisions using Mageshima as a site for training exercises involving the controversial MV-22s, which were recently deployed at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa. One Osprey was forced to ditch off Okinawa earlier this year.

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