Okinawa's mayors, citizens stage sit-in to call for U.S. base relocation out of island

16:08, April 27, 2010      

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Okinawa mayors and citizens opposed to relocating U.S. marine facility within Japan's southernmost prefecture staged a sit-in protest in front of the Diet members' buildings on Tuesday, following Sunday's mass protest rally involving 90,000 people in the village of Yomitan, Okinawa.

Tuesday's protest saw both Yoichi Iha, the mayor of Ginowan, the city currently hosting the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station, and Susumu Inamine, mayor of Nago city, which may accommodate the new heliport functions of Futemma to ease the burden on the densely populated area of Ginowan, criticize the Japanese and U.S. governments for failing to realize the return of the land occupied by the U.S. facility, as previously agreed between the two nations.

"Fourteen years have passed since Japan and the United States agreed on the land return, but the airfield remains a major impediment to the city's urban planning and economic development," Iha said.

A year after the brutal gang-rape of a local schoolgirl in 1995 by U.S. military personnel, Japan and the United States agreed that the land of the Futemma facility in Ginowan will be returned to local citizens within five to seven years.

However, as part of a broader Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between Washington and Tokyo in 2006, the heliport functions of the Futemma air base were to be relocated to the coastal area of the Marines' Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa and 8, 000 military personnel moved to the U.S. island of Guam by 2014.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who also serves as the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) president, pledged as part of his election campaign that ended with the DPJ ousting the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after half a century of governance last September, that his government would see the airstrip moved out of Okinawa or even Japan entirely.

Inamine said he "believes in" Hatoyama's pledge, adding "I'd like the premier to clearly show a road map toward the base relocation out of the prefecture."

Hatoyama said earlier Tuesday that the government was close to making a decision on what to do about the Futemma air facility in Okinawa Prefecture, and was putting the final touches to its proposal.

Government sources close to the situation have said the central government is honing in on a relocation plan that would see the new airstrip built on an elevated platform in the shallow waters off the coast in Nago, instead of on reclaimed land from the sea, which would have had an adverse affect on marine life.

Washington has expressed its desire to see as much of the 2006 SOFA agreement remain intact as possible and maintains that whilst Tokyo's proposals are being considered, the original plan agreed in 2006 that was years in the making represents the best way forward.

Hatoyama has a self-imposed deadline of the end of May to resolve the issue and has said to opposition leaders in parliament that he will step down as prime minister should he fail to do so.

Source: Xinhua


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