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Noda opts to keep beleaguered defense chief

Date Posted: 2011-12-16

Refusing to bow to outrage from Okinawa, the opposition and even his own ruling party, Japan’s Prime Minister has refused to sack his defense chief over the furor stemming from embarrassing comments made more than a week ago.

I am terribly sorry that the feelings of the Okinawans have been hurt, says Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda speaking to the Lower House Budget Committee, but I would like Minister Yasuo Ichikawa to straighten up and perform his duties. Ichikawa’s been under fire since he admitted to the Diet last week that he didnt know the details of the 1995 rape of a young Okinawa girl by three U.S. servicemen.

The demands for Ishikawas resignation have been coming from every quarter, with opposition lawmakers, as expected, leading the charge, but also including lawmakers of his own party. The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito are planning a censure motion if Ichikawa doesnt step down, but lawmakers from the Democratic Party of Japan, his own party, and Kokumin Shinto, the People’s New Party, are demanding resignation.

Mikio Shimoji, an Okinawa lawmaker affiliated with the Kokumin Shinto, personally told the Prime Minister he should fire Ishikawa. I think that you will be able to rebuild trust with Okinawa if you take firm measures, Shimoji said, and that is why I am calling for a dismissal and not a resignation. Ichikawa, whose specialty is agricultural matters, has said all along he had no intentions of resigning.

Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine urged Ichikawa to resign to take responsibility for a gaffe made by a senior defense official in relation to the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma air station and a questionable remark by the minister himself.
Ichikawa should not remain in the post, Inamine told a press conference. These officials do not seem to be making efforts to understand the situation in Okinawa, he added.

The resignation demand from the Nago mayor could affect Prime Minister Yoshihiko Nodas decision on the fate of the defense minister. Based on its agreements with the United States, the Japanese government plans to transfer the Futenma base in Ginowan, Okinawa, to a coastal area of Nago. Last week, Satoshi Tanaka, director-general of the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau, was sacked from the post after making a remark that can be taken as being sexist over the base relocation plan at an unofficial meeting with reporters.

When it tries to gain Okinawas support for the relocation plan, the central government always says it is addressing issues facing Okinawa sincerely, but no sincerity can be felt. Stressing that he will strive to regain trust from Okinawa, Ichikawa said he will make all-out efforts to resolve problems in Okinawa and reduce the heavy burden on the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan.

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