• Kyodo

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A local mayor in southwestern Japan, who is opposed to having an island his city oversees become a site for U.S. military drills, won re-election on Sunday.

Shunsuke Yaita, the 67-year-old incumbent for Nishinoomote, Kagoshima Prefecture, beat Kiyonobu Fukui, who was backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. His victory could impact the central government’s plan to allow the uninhibited Mage Island to be used for U.S. military plane takeoff and landing exercises.

Shunsuke Yaita speaks to supporters Sunday in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima Prefecture, after being re-elected as mayor of the city. | KYODO
Shunsuke Yaita speaks to supporters Sunday in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima Prefecture, after being re-elected as mayor of the city. | KYODO

Relocating the training site for carrier-borne aircraft from Iwo Jima in the Pacific, some 1,200 kilometers south of Tokyo, to Mage Island has long been an issue between the central and local governments.

The main campaign issue in the election was the Defense Ministry’s plan to build a Self-Defense Forces base on the island to be jointly used by the U.S. military. Yaita was opposed to the plan.

Fukui, the 71-year-old president of a local commerce chamber, supported the plan, which was decided upon by the central government under a 2011 Japan-U.S. accord.

“The residents of the city have said ‘No’ against turning Mage Island into a military base. The ministry has been going ahead with the plan without much debate, but I would like it to respect the people’s decision,” Yaita told supporters in the city.

During his election campaign, Yaita said residents have much to lose from the relocation, and called for building a strong economy and a rejection of the central government plan.

The project has been stalled due to environmental and safety concerns as well as prolonged land acquisition negotiations between the government and the main landowner of Mage, located about 12 km west of Kagoshima’s Tanegashima Island.

In November, Kagoshima Gov. Koichi Shiota announced that he would accept the ministry’s request to start a survey in waters surrounding the 8-square-kilometer Mage Island. The survey began the following month.

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