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Japan may sack Okinawa Defense Bureau head

Date Posted: 2012-02-01

Japan's Defense Ministry will consider punishment of the Okinawa Defense Bureau head, such as possible dismissal, over his questionable acts related to a key local election.

Ministry sources say Ro Manabe, director-general of the bureau, last week held lectures for its staff and families living in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan ahead of a mayoral election on Feb. 12th. Ginowan hosts the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station at the center of a controversial relocation plan. Manabe's deeds could be misunderstood and draw criticism, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told reporters, adding that he will make a decision on his punishment at a meeting with his deputies in the near future.
Tanaka denied his involvement in the affair.

Parliamentary Senior Vice Defense Minister Shu Watanabe submitted a report of the ministry's investigation into the issue at a meeting of House of Representatives Budget Committee executives yesterday. Manabe did not support any specific candidate in his lectures, the report said, stressing that he did not violate any laws including the public offices election law. The opposition side, however, says Manabe's acts may constitute election campaigning by a public servant, which is banned under the law.

The Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party requested Manabe speak before the Diet as an unsworn witness. Speaking to reporters, New Komeito Diet affairs head Yoshio Urushibara said the defense minister seems have no choice but to dismiss Manabe. JCP lawmaker Seiken Akamine revealed Manabe's questionable acts at a Lower House Budget Committee meeting on Tuesday, presenting e-mail messages as evidence.

The ministry's report confirmed the existence of the messages in which the bureau asked its staff to list bureau members who live in Ginowan or have families or relatives in the city, and asked them to attend Manabe's lectures. Manabe proposed holding the lectures, and related instructions were issued on Jan. 4th, the report said, noting that a list of 80 bureau members was compiled by Jan. 10th.

Later in the month, on January 23rd and 24th, Manabe spoke before the audience for about 10 minutes in each event. After briefing the audience on both individuals who have expressed their intention to run in the election, the report said Manabe stressed the importance of exercising voting rights in the host city of the Futenma base. He also said public servants should take care not to create any suspicion about their fairness and neutrality.

Tanaka on Tuesday sent a ministry investigative team to Okinawa, which held interviews with Manabe and 52 out of the 68 bureau officials who attended the lectures.
The outcome was compiled into the ministry's report mainly by Akira Kamata, director-general at the minister's secretariat.

Former Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha and Okinawa Prefecture assembly member Atsushi Sata have announced their plans to participate in the mayoral race. Both call for the relocation of the Futenma base outside the prefecture, but Iha takes a harder line than Sata.

Under an agreement with the United States, Japan plans to move the base from Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area of Nago, also in the southernmost prefecture.
It was also learned that a senior Defense Ministry official who interviewed Manabe on Tuesday found that he made a similar lecture before a Nago mayoral election in January 2010 or a Nago assembly election in September of that year. Manabe was quoted as telling the ministry official that he had done so in a Nago election.

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