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Abe says Okinawa base move to go ahead despite referendum outcome

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the media about the outcome of the Okinawa referendum in Tokyo on Feb. 25, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated Monday the government will proceed with the planned relocation of a U.S. air base within Okinawa Prefecture despite over 70 percent of voters rejecting the move in a local referendum, saying it "cannot be postponed any further."

Abe told reporters a day after the poll that he "sincerely" accepts the antibase sentiment shown in the nonbinding plebiscite, vowing to continue "all out-efforts to alleviate the base-hosting burden" on local residents.

"We have been holding dialogue with people in Okinawa for a long time and intend to keep doing so to seek their understanding" on the decades-old plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the southern island prefecture, Abe said.

The government has already pushed ahead with work to build a replacement facility for the U.S. airbase, currently located in a crowded residential area of Ginowan. The construction is underway at the Henoko district of Nago, a less densely populated coastal zone.

The prime minister said the dangers posed by the Futenma airfield because of its location in a residential area should be removed and that its move to a new site, originally agreed upon by Japan and the United States more than 20 years ago, should not be put off.

The central government maintains that the current relocation plan is "the only solution" for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

With the number of registered voters in the prefecture rejecting the base plan exceeding one-quarter, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who is an opponent of the base plan, is required to abide by the outcome.

In addition, Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump will be officially notified of the result under the terms of the referendum ordinance, which requires notification if more than one-quarter of registered voters support any of the three options -- support for the plan, rejection, or neither.

Tamaki is arranging to visit Abe's office and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo later this week to convey the outcome of the referendum and seek dialogue for the settlement of the controversial issue.

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