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Abe to snub Henoko base referendum results as parties clash in Diet

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions about the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 20, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Ruling and opposition parties clashed in the Diet Feb. 20, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisting on relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan in central Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago, a city further north in the prefecture, regardless of the results of a prefectural referendum on the relocation.

The referendum will be carried out by Okinawa Prefecture's 41 municipalities on Feb. 24. Okinawa voters will be given a choice to answer "yes," "no," or "neither" on the question of whether reclamation work related to building a new base to replace the Futenma base should go ahead within the prefecture.

At a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) parliamentary group member Kenji Eda questioned the current administration's treatment of Okinawa, saying, "The prime minister and Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki have had a one-on-one meeting just once. Why are you so cold to Okinawa?" Eda went on to point out that the late Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who reached an agreement with the U.S. on the return of Futenma to Japan, met with the Okinawa governor dozens of times. Eda, incidentally, served as a secretary to Prime Minister Hashimoto.

"We are proceeding with the transfer of drills conducted at Futenma to locations outside the prefecture. We will continue to put all our efforts into reducing the burden on Okinawa," Abe rebutted.

In response to the question of whether the results of the upcoming prefectural referendum will affect construction of a base off the coast of Henoko to replace Futenma, the prime minister said there would be "no changes" to the government's policy. Abe also said, "We must keep Futenma from becoming fixed."

The CDP's Hiranao Honda went after Abe's remark on a program on public broadcaster NHK in January that "coral (in the landfill area) have been transplanted." Because only one of the 74,000 coral colonies that live in the area has been translated, Honda argued that Abe should have been more careful in making his comment. In response, Abe said, "I did not say anything that was erroneous."

Depending on the results, the prefectural referendum could impact the by-election for the House of Representatives Okinawa No. 3 constituency vacated by Denny Tamaki when he ran in the gubernatorial election, and the House of Councillors election this summer.

(Japanese original by Yoshitaka Koyama, Political News Department)

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