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Okinawa governor demands Abe abandon relocation of US base to Henoko

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, left, explains the outcome of a prefectural referendum over the relocation of a U.S. base within the prefecture to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the latter's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on March 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki demanded in a meeting here with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on March 1 that the central government abandon the controversial relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps base within the prefecture.

The move comes after more than 70 percent of voters rejected the ongoing landfill work for the relocation of Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, also in the southernmost prefecture, in a local referendum on Feb. 24.

"Public opinion expressed directly (in the prefectural referendum) is more serious than anything, and must be respected," Tamaki told the prime minister at the outset of their meeting at the prime minister's office. "I'd like you to squarely face the feelings of prefectural residents."

The governor notified the prime minister of the outcome of the referendum in accordance with a prefectural ordinance on the poll, as the number of "no" votes exceeded one-fourth of all eligible voters.

Tamaki also proposed that a conference on reducing the burden of the Futenma base on the prefecture be convened at an early date and that Okinawa be allowed to participate in the Special Action Committee on Facilities and Areas in Okinawa.

"I request that many opportunities be created for me to talk frankly with the prime minister and seek a solution to the issue," Tamaki told Prime Minister Abe.

In response, the prime minister told Tamaki, "I take seriously" the results of the referendum.

However, Abe emphasized that the Futenma base, which is situated in a densely populated residential area, poses a danger to the local community, and said the central government will move ahead with the relocation.

Noting that more than 20 years have passed since Japan and the United States agreed that the base would be closed and its land returned to owners, Prime Minister Abe said, "We can no longer delay" the relocation.

At the same time, Abe said he intends to continue dialogue with Gov. Tamaki over the issue. "We'd like to continue efforts to convince Okinawa residents," he said.

Prior to the meeting with the prime minister, Tamaki visited the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo's Minato Ward and notified Washington of the outcome of the referendum, also in accordance with the ordinance.

In 1996, Japan and the United States agreed that Futenma base would be closed on condition that the base would be relocated within the prefecture.

(Japanese original by Minami Nomaguchi, Political News Department)

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