|US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet Fighter Aircraft (File Photo)|
The Yamaguchi Prefecture city of Iwakuni is on track to host one of the largest U.S. air stations in the Far East following an announcement from local heads that they will accept the relocation of U.S. carrier-based aircraft units from Kanagawa Prefecture to a base in the coastal city.
"After careful consideration and much thought, I have decided to accept (the relocation plan)," Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda said during a municipal assembly meeting on June 23. He was the first among the heads of local municipalities hosting the Iwakuni base to announce the approval of the plan to host U.S. carrier-based jets from the U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture. Assembly members opposed to the plan presented a no-confidence motion against Fukuda, but it was voted down. Meanwhile on June 30, Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka told a prefectural assembly plenary session that he too accepts the relocation plan.
While concerns remain strong among Iwakuni residents about noise pollution and accidents of U.S. aircraft, as well as possible crimes and incidents involving American soldiers, moves against the relocation plan have not been prominent on the local level. Behind their relatively quiet stance towards the base issue is the city's history, in which residents have been twisted around by the central government's use of a carrot-and-stick approach.
The plan to move U.S. carrier-based jets from the Atsugi base to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni surfaced in October 2005. Local residents expressed their opposition to the plan in a March 2006 referendum and in the mayoral election called in April that year following Iwakuni's merger with surrounding municipalities -- in which anti-relocation incumbent Katsusuke Ihara was elected.
The state subsequently froze a 3.5 billion yen subsidy for the construction of a new city hall, which was already under construction at the time. Then mayor Ihara resigned at the end of 2007 seeking a mandate from residents, and lost to Fukuda, who was endorsed by the pro-relocation camp, in a subsequent mayoral election.
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