New mayor in Okinawa remains opposed to U.S. base plan

15:26, February 08, 2010      

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Susumu Inamine on his first day in office as mayor of Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture of southern Japan, told local reporters on Monday he remains unequivocally opposed to plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futemma Air Station to his city.

Inamine, 62, an independent who won the mayoral election in Nago on Jan. 24 with a majority of 52 percent, said he plans to voice his objections about the building of a new base under the current Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) made between Washington and Tokyo in 2006, to Japan's central and prefectural governments.

"I hope to put an end to the relocation issue soon," Inamine said at a press conference at a city office in Henoko, the proposed site for the new base.

Inamine later told local media, city officials and elders, "I think the base will not come to Henoko. The prime minister must be thinking so, too. I will stick to my opposition against building a new base."

The new mayor campaigned on a platform of staunch opposition to the relocation of the U.S. airbase in Futemma, Ginowan city, to Nago, and has the support of the country's ruling Democratic Party of Japan's (DPJ) junior coalition members: the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and People's New Party (PNP).

Inamine has given the people of Okinawa fresh hope that they may see the end of their island having to bear the burden of a U.S. military presence which has seen instances of crime, accidents and pollution.

The rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995 incensed the island's residents and when a U.S. helicopter crashed on the campus of a local university in 2004, demands from the public and local government for the military instillations to be moved off the island became vehement.

Washington, however, has resolutely maintained that the agreement reached in 2006, following years of research and negotiations, still represents the best way forward and has implored Tokyo to adhere to it.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party, a key faction to the DPJ consolidating its power in the upper house, has said that it would quit the ruling coalition if the government decides to keep the base on Okinawa.

Two small islands off the coast of mainland Okinawa as well as the island of Guam have been considered by the DPJ as possible alternative relocation sites.

DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama has a self-imposed deadline of the end of May to determine the immediate future of the U.S. Marine Corps Futemma Air Station and the citizens of Okinawa, including those of Nago, that will be affected by his decision.

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