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Japanese minister replaced after heckling lawmaker over Okinawa aviation incidents

A Marine prepares to steer a CH-53E Super Stallion off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, July 31, 2017.

CHRISTIAN ROBERTSON/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 30, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Japanese senior vice minister has been replaced after heckling a Diet member who was critical of the recent spate of U.S. military aviation incidents on Okinawa.

Ryosei Tanaka was appointed Monday to replace Fumiaki Matsumoto, who resigned last week.

Matsumoto — a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party — shouted “How many people died?” while Japan Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii criticized recent emergency landings by Marine Corps helicopters during a meeting of the House of Representatives Thursday. Matsumoto’s outburst drew a swift rebuke from opposition lawmakers who said it downplayed the incidents.

In accepting Matsumoto’s resignation, Abe said Matsumoto apologized for upsetting Okinawans concerned about the safety of U.S. military aircraft.

“Politicians must take responsibility for what they say … in order to gain the trust of voters,” Abe said during a House budget committee meeting Monday.

Abe said it is the Japanese government’s policy to consider the feelings of Okinawan citizens while doing its best to minimize the burden of hosting military bases on the tiny island prefecture.

There have been three emergency landings by Marine helicopters this month. On Dec. 13, a CH-53E Super Stallion’s window inexplicably became separated from the aircraft and landed on an elementary school sports field, slightly injuring a child. There were also significant mishaps involving Okinawa-based aircraft in October and August.

Abe’s comments came the same day a Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15 from Naha Air Base made an emergency landing at Kadena Air Base, a JASDF spokesman said. The fighter was conducting regular training at 1:53 p.m. when a hydraulic system warning came on.

No injuries or damage were reported, the spokesman said. The cause is under investigation.

burke.matt@stripes.com
kusumoto.hana@stripes.com

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