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Friday, March 30, 2007

Osaka day-laborers lose registrations


Staff writer

OSAKA -- The Osaka Municipal Government purged the residence registrations of nearly 2,100 day-laborers Thursday, after concluding through a monthlong investigation that the men did not really live at the three welfare centers where they were registered.

The city's decision was immediately condemned by lawyers and human rights activists, who vowed to sue the city for denying the men their constitutional rights Without a government-recognized residence, the men will be unable to vote in the April 8 municipal elections.

City officials and the homeless met for two hours Thursday afternoon in an attempt to reach a solution to what is rapidly becoming the major political issue in the upcoming election. But the meeting turned acrimonious toward the end, as it became obvious no compromise would be reached.

The decision comes nearly a month after the Osaka High Court ordered the city not to remove the address of a 34-year-old construction worker who had registered his residence as a private welfare facility in the Kamagasaki day-laborer district.

At the time, nearly 3,000 people were registered as living at three privately run centers. The city said their registrations were illegal because a person has to physically live at an address to register it as a place of residence, something that all 3,000 people could not do.

Many homeless people, however, say they need a registered residential address to apply for social welfare benefits or job interviews, in addition to guaranteeing their voting rights.

After the court ruling, Osaka announced it would suspend plans to eliminate all the registrations for three weeks while it checked who was living at the facilities and to move them into public shelters.

City officials faced a tight deadline with the elections looming, and the city became concerned that the poll could be invalid if the people registered at the private welfare facilities voted. A tense meeting that nearly came to blows last week between city officials and representatives of the homeless group failed to resolve the issue.

Lawyers for the homeless say the registrations are legal and the city's act of invalidating the listings would be the cause of a constitutionally invalid election.

Some of the homeless have been registered at the private facilities for years and several who attended last week's meeting with the city complained that officials had never questioned the legitimacy of their registrations during past elections.

"If Osaka takes away their registrations, the homeless will lose their right to vote, a clear violation of the Constitution. I see lawsuits against the city as inevitable," said Hiromichi Endo, a human rights lawyer who works on behalf of the homeless.

Osaka has said the homeless who were registered as living at the private facilities but who had agreed before Thursday to move into designated municipal shelters would be able to apply to register the shelters as their residences, but would not say the applications would be accepted nor would they clarify why they considered the public facilities legally acceptable addresses but not the private facilities.

But the question now is what will become of the voting rights of the 2,100 whose registrations are being expunged.



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