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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Yokosuka’s city council voted 31-10 Thursday not to seek citizens’ input on the Navy’s plan to base a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier there.

The vote to deny a request for a referendum came after three days of statements by city politicians and the group that brought the issue to the council. The opposition group collected 37,858 signatures from Yokosuka residents who oppose the Navy’s plan to replace the aging but conventionally-powered USS Kitty Hawk with the nuclear-powered USS George Washington in 2008.

Those voting against the referendum and Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya said the issue had no place in local government.

“The issue … is something the national government decides,” Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya stated in a position document Monday. “Yokosuka City has no final say in the issue and therefore it isn’t fit for referendum.”

But those favoring the citizen vote said that even if it’s non-binding, it lets residents show how they feel. Local governments have conducted referendums on U.S. military-related issues before.

In a non-binding referendum in March, Iwakuni city voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to relocate part of a Navy air wing to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni from Naval Air Facility Atsugi. Citing the vote, the mayor asked the national government to cancel the plan. But then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected the non-binding request.

Kabaya said Thursday’s majority vote showed solidarity with him and the assembly.

A leader of the opposition group that collected the signatures called the city council rejection “regrettable.”

“Why will [the mayor and the assembly] not take the time to listen to residents’ voices?” asked Masahiko Goto. “Many residents will have hard time understanding.” He said his group will continue to try to stop the ship from deploying to Yokosuka.

Cmdr. David Waterman, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman, said after Thursday’s vote that the Navy “values its good relationship with Japan and the City of Yokosuka and looks forward to strengthening their alliance.”

“We give careful consideration to Japanese views on all of our activities and we listen very carefully to local authorities,” Waterman said. “The decision today was treated in that way.”

USS John F. Kennedy will be decommissioned this March, leaving the USS Kitty Hawk as the fleet’s only non-nuclear powered aircraft carrier. The JFK’s final port call will be in Boston, before the decommissioning on March 23.

Goto said he still hopes that the JFK will sail to Yokosuka, keeping a conventional carrier there.

“It will depend on how Yokosuka approaches the issue,” Goto said. “We can’t stop trying.”

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