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Okinawa Gov. Tamaki to propose overseas relocation of Futenma to PM Abe

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki speaks before the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly in Naha on Feb. 25, 2019, the morning after the base referendum. (Mainichi/Tadashi Sano)

The only option to resolve the ongoing battle over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, may be to move the base quickly out of Japan, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told the prefectural assembly on Feb. 25.

Tamaki's statement came after a Feb. 24 prefectural referendum in which the majority of voters expressed their opposition to landfill work for the construction of a replacement base for Futenma in the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture. The governor said he would demand the central government stop the landfill operation, and promote the relocation of Futenma out of the country.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also on Feb. 25, told reporters, "I will take the results (of the referendum) seriously," but also reiterated his administration's plans to go ahead with Futenma's transfer to Henoko.

Gov. Tamaki and Prime Minister Abe are set to meet as early as March 1, but it is unlikely that they will be able to resolve their clashing positions.

The Feb. 24 referendum gave voters the option of answering "yes," "no," or "neither" to the question of whether they agreed with the landfill work off the coast of Henoko. There were 434,273 "no" votes -- over 70 percent of all votes cast. "No" votes also made up the majority in all 41 municipalities in Okinawa Prefecture, and far surpassed 25 percent of all eligible voters -- an estimated 1,153,591 people as of Feb. 24. Under the prefectural ordinance for the referendum promulgated on Oct. 31 last year, Gov. Tamaki is now required not only to respect the results, but to officially convey them to Prime Minister Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Voter turnout for the referendum was 52.48 percent. Of total eligible voters, "no" votes comprised 37.65 percent; while "yes" votes, at 114,933, came to 9.96 percent; and "neither" votes, at 52,682, accounted for 4.57 percent. The referendum results are not legally binding, but Gov. Tamaki said, "The (central) government should face the resolute will of the people of Okinawa head-on, immediately review their policy that '(relocation to) Henoko is the only option,' and halt construction."

Prime Minister Abe, however, repeated his intention to go ahead with the Henoko plan at both the prime minister's office and at a Feb. 25 session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, saying, "We must absolutely avoid the Futenma air base, which is said to be the most dangerous air base in the world, from being left to the side and kept in its dangerous condition." He emphasized that to eliminate the dangers of Futenma, work in Henoko "must not be pushed back."

Abe's remarks indicate that his administration foresees the Okinawa Prefectural Government filing lawsuits to try and stop the Henoko relocation plan. Thus, the government is bent on creating faits accomplis by continuing with landfill and other related construction work.

Asked about the Okinawa prefectural referendum at a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, "(The referendum) only asked voters whether they were for or against the landfill at Henoko, and did not touch upon how to eliminate the dangers of the Futenma base, or prevent it from becoming fixed in its dangerous state."

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau; Minami Nomaguchi, City News Department; and Tadashi Sano, Kyushu News Department)

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