Japanese PM to meet Okinawa Governor as U.S. base relocation deadline draws close

15:12, April 28, 2010      

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Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will meet Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima on May 4 to discuss the thorny issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station in Japan's southernmost prefecture, political sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

Hatoyama's visit comes on the back of a mass protest rally held Sunday in which 90,000 local residents and politicians, including the governor, gathered in the village of Yomitan in Okinawa to call for the relocation of the Futemma base outside the island.

Sources also revealed Wednesday that Japan's Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa submitted to Hatoyama a set of proposals for modifying an existing bilateral accord reached in 2006 between the U.S. and Japan to relocate the Futemma base from the crowded residential area of Ginowan to a less densely populated coastal area of the U.S. Marines' Camp Schwab in Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

Japanese government officials on Wednesday also met with Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs to discuss the finer points of the latest proposal, earlier drafts of which Campbell described as "encouraging."

The current plan which would see a new airstrip built on an elevated platform in the shallow waters off the coast in Nago, Okinawa, instead of on reclaimed land from the sea, now also involves the possibility of transferring some of the exercises conducted by the air units at the Futemma base to Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, an island about 200 kilometers northeast of the main Okinawa island and 1,400 kilometers south of Tokyo.

However on Wednesday Hatoyama visited the Tokyo home of Torao Tokuda, an ex-lawmaker elected four times to the House of Representatives before retiring from politics in 2005, with significant influence in the Tokunoshima area, to seek Tokuda's support and understanding for the plan.

But the bedridden Tokuda rejected the prime minister's ideas involving Tokunoshima saying, "A U.S. base is not acceptable, but I want to do something to be respectful to the prime minister."

Up to 15,000 residents from Tokunoshima island mobilized on April 17 to show their defiance to the governments plans and along with recent protests on Okinawa island the Hatoyama-led government are seemingly struggling to raise the local support, which the U.S. has stipulated is central to the relocation process.

Hatoyama has until the end of May to resolve the relocation issue. Prior to being elected the now prime minister pledged to move the Futemma facility outside of Okinawa.

Source: Xinhua


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