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Landfill work to relocate U.S. base in Okinawa postponed

This photo taken on July 27, 2018, from a drone shows an aerial view of the Henoko coastal area of Nago city in Okinawa Prefecture where seawall construction work for relocating a U.S. military base from a crowded residential district in Ginowan city, also in Okinawa, is under way. (Kyodo)

NAHA, Japan (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government postponed Friday scheduled landfill work for the relocation of a U.S. military base in Okinawa, apparently until after the gubernatorial election next month.

The central government provided no explanation for the decision to postpone the work planned to begin as soon as Friday.

The gubernatorial election is set for Sept. 30 following the Aug. 8 death of Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who had demanded the base be moved outside the southwestern island prefecture rather than transferred elsewhere within Okinawa.

Onaga had instructed local officials to start procedures to retract his predecessor's approval for the landfill work, while the central government has urged Okinawa government officials to postpone the retraction.

Some central government officials are concerned that the landfill work could provoke a backlash among local residents and impact the election.

The Okinawa government is examining the timing for retracting the approval, with a senior official describing it as the last resort to block the central government's controversial plan.

Under the plan, the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is to be transferred to the Henoko coastal area of Nago from a crowded residential district in Ginowan.

"The prefecture is probably trying to pick the right time for the retraction to take advantage of it for the election, but I doubt if there are any merits to postponing it," said Tomoharu Toyozato, a 70-year-old who took part in a rally Friday against the relocation plan.

Atsushi Sakima, the 54-year-old mayor of Ginowan, said this week he will run in the gubernatorial election, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government expected to support him to push ahead with the plan.

The gubernatorial election was moved up from mid-November as Onaga died of pancreatic cancer before the end of his four-year term in December.

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