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LDP-backed candidate to run in Okinawa governor election

Atsushi Sakima, mayor of the Okinawa Prefecture's city of Ginowan, speaks before the press at the city's municipal office, on Aug. 14, 2018. (Kyodo)

NAHA, Japan (Kyodo) -- An Okinawa mayor said Tuesday he will run in the Sept. 30 Okinawa gubernatorial election, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government expected to support him to push ahead with a plan to transfer a U.S. air base within the prefecture.

Atsushi Sakima, the 54-year-old mayor of Ginowan where the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma sits, emphasized the importance of "rebuilding ties" with the central government as he declared his candidacy in the election that follows the death of incumbent Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who was against the base relocation plan.

"Okinawa has continuously clashed with the state and we have seen strained ties and divisions (among our people)," Sakima, backed by Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in referring to the base issue.

The focal point in the election is certain to be the plan to transfer Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, both of which are on the southern prefecture's main island.

Sakima stopped short of clarifying his position on the controversial issue, saying, "What is most important is to remove the danger of Futenma and seek the return (of the land used for the Futenma base)."

Sakima, a native of Ginowan, was elected as mayor in 2012 and is serving his second term. Known for his relatively close ties with senior officials of the central government, he has accepted an offer from the LDP's local chapter to run in the race.

As the schedule for the election has moved up due to death of Onaga, opponents of the base transfer project have yet to field a candidate but will step up their efforts to pick a successor to Onaga. The 67-year-old incumbent died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday before the end of his four-year term in December.

Conservative Shigenobu Asato, the 48-year-old chairman of a local logistics company and former head of Junior Chamber International Japan, has also declared his candidacy for the gubernatorial race but the LDP's local chapter is arranging to only back Sakima.

The central government believes the Futenma base is necessary to maintain the perceived deterrence provided by the United States, while many people in Okinawa regard it as an unfair burden on the island that already hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

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