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Mayor opposes deployment of land-based Aegis missile defense battery

Norihiko Hanada, mayor of the Yamaguchi Prefecture town of Abu, speaks during a town assembly meeting on Sept. 20, 2018. (Kyodo)

YAMAGUCHI, Japan (Kyodo) -- The mayor of a town in western Japan said Thursday he opposes the installation of an Aegis Ashore missile defense battery after the municipality was named as a potential host site in May.

"I clearly express my opposition to the deployment," said Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada at a plenary session of the town assembly, which unanimously adopted earlier in the day a petition calling on the Defense Ministry to retract its Aegis Ashore deployment plan.

Hanada is the first municipal leader of a potential host site to officially oppose deployment of the anti-ballistic missile defense system.

"(The site) is close to a residential area and it goes against our policy of building a town that cares for nature and people," he said. "It is the responsibility of the town mayor to remove any threat to their safety."

The Defense Ministry, which intends to deploy two batteries to counter the threat of North Korean missiles, has listed as candidate sites a Ground Self-Defense Force training area straddling Abu and Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and another exercise area in the city of Akita in northeastern Japan.

"It is a necessary equipment to protect our country from the threat of ballistic missiles, and the Defense Ministry will continue to offer explanations many times," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo.

"The deployment must be based on local support and it is important to sincerely respond to various concerns and requests," he added.

The ministry plans to survey the candidate sites to see whether their landscapes and ground are fit for hosting Aegis Ashore missile launchers and related facilities.

The petition adopted by the town assembly, compiled by 16 local residents' associations and four farming bodies, states that hosting the Aegis Ashore system would be "too big a risk" as Abu could become a target for attacks and agricultural products could suffer reputational damage due to electromagnetic waves in radar.

Japan decided to introduce the ground-based missile defense system in December after North Korea test-fired around 20 ballistic missiles in 2017, two of which flew over Japanese territory.

While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to work toward denuclearization at a historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June, Japan deems the North Korean missile and nuclear threat remains and is aiming to introduce the defense system in fiscal 2023.

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