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Gov't decided to continue Henoko base work ahead of Okinawa referendum: defense minister

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya answers a question during a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on March 4, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The central government planned to continue construction of a new U.S. Marine facility in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, no matter how an Okinawa-wide referendum on the base in February turned out, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told lawmakers on March 5.

"The government wanted to make sure the Futenma base is returned to Japan in its entirety even one day sooner (than planned), and so decided in advance (of the referendum) to continue work on the new facility," Iwaya told lawmakers at a morning session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, referring to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

Some 70 percent of voters in a Feb. 24 referendum across the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa rejected continued land reclamation work for a Futenma replacement base in Nago's coastal Henoko district. Japan and the United States agreed on the Futenma facility's return to Japan in April 1996.

"We have repeatedly explained the government's intention to keep building the base to the Okinawa Prefectural Government," Iwaya continued. "I have also reported the general flow of events to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe."

Abe later added, "It is my plan to have all of Futenma base returned even one day sooner. It is the defense minister's decision to proceed with construction under this plan."

Meanwhile, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters at a March 4 news conference in Tokyo that he was demanding a halt to the work at Henoko, and talks with the central government based on the results of the Feb. 24 prefectural referendum.

"It is extremely regrettable that the construction is moving forward," Tamaki stated. "I believe the attitude of this government, which is forcing this project onward, will inspire more and more of the Japanese people to raise questions (about the base)."

Also on March 4, the government commenced work to build a new seawall at the Henoko site, the ninth of its kind in the area. The seawall will also be used as a pier by the ships carrying earth and sand for the land reclamation work, and the move appears intended to speed up construction.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura and Shu Furukawa, Political News Department)

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