Japanese PM visits Okinawa amid tension over U.S. base relocation

21:23, December 17, 2010      

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Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan visited Okinawa Prefecture on Friday to hold talks with its Governor Hirokazu Nakaima on relocating a controversial U.S. marines base on the southwestern island.

Kan, facing all-time low approval rate, told Nakaima that the plan to relocate the controversial Futenma Air Station within the island was still the central government's objective and apologized to the governor and the local people for the confusion and for them having to host a disproportionate amount of U.S. military facilities on their island.

"As a Japanese, I feel sorry, and as a politician I'm terribly ashamed of letting the prefecture host the bulk of U.S. military forces stationed in Japan under a bilateral security accord," Kan was quoted by local media as telling Nakaima.

Nakaima, reelected to his post for a four-year term recently, is staunchly opposed to the plan agreed between Tokyo and Washington in May to largely stick to a bilateral accord in 2006 to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station from the crowded urban area of Ginowan City to a less populous coastal area in Nago on the island.

Nakaima demanded that the central government review the plan, with an aim to remove the base out of Okinawa completely.

Kan's predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, reneged on his election pledge to relocate the Futenma base outside Okinawa or even Japan, which was largely responsible for his resignation and decline in public support for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

According to government sources, Kan's visit to Okinawa, the second since he took office in June, was to learn about the "real situation" in the prefecture. He plans to visit the Futenma Air Station on Saturday.

On the sidelines of the APEC summit in Yokohama in November, Kan reiterated his promise to the U.S. President Barack Obama that Japan would keep to the bilateral agreement and that he would make the utmost efforts to relocate the base to a coastal area in Nago.

Adding to tensions between Tokyo and Washington, however, Kan said earlier this month that he would not put a deadline on settling the relocation issue, even though Kan is scheduled to issue a joint statement on the matter with Obama during a planned trip to the U.S. next spring, as the two countries actively seek to strengthen the long-standing U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Local authorities and citizens have constantly complained about the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, citing issues of pollution, noise, accidents and crime including the 1995 rape of a 12-year- old girl by three U.S. soldiers.

Japan this week agreed to continue to pay about 188 billion yen (2.23 billion U.S. dollars) a year for the next five years to host the U.S. bases.

Source: Xinhua
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