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Iran Press TV

Japan's Okinawa to hold referendum on moving US base

Iran Press TV

Fri Oct 26, 2018 11:11AM

Local politicians in Japan's Okinawa Island have decided to hold a referendum on a government plan to relocate a US military base away from its present urban location.

Following the Friday decision, new Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki, who is a vocal opponent of the base's relocation, is due to set a date for the vote, with local media speculating that it will be held before next spring.

The original central government-backed plan would move the base to a remote area in the island a bid to appease local anger and address negative sentiments towards the US presence. Construction at the new site has, however, been cancelled since August, after the new local government retracted approval for the base's transfer.

The suspension reflected local concerns, which disapproved of the military base but feared that the relocation may potentially result in a long-lasting US presence on the land. Subsequently, a civil group in Okinawa collected 93,000 signatures asking the government to hold the referendum.

A popular no-vote, however legally non-binding, would put further pressure on the central government's approach towards US forces in Okinawa.

Okinawa Island rests more than 600 km south of mainland Japan and was the site of a bloody World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island. The US has, however, insisted to keep a heavy presence on the Island due to its strategic position facing Asia, positioning half its approximately 47,000 strong Japan force on the island.

Tokyo believes the base is necessary. Since defeat in WWII, it has been heavily dependent on US military protection against perceived threats. Many ordinary citizens in Okinawa, however, regard the base as a burden.

Multiple cases of misconduct by US forces, including several rape cases and the rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman in 2016, have increasingly raised anti-American sentiments among the pacifist islanders. The controversies regarding the base have also led to other parts of the country objecting any base relocation near their communities.

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