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PM Abe: Japan to proceed with US base relocation despite Okinawa vote outcome

Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe says Tokyo will proceed with a controversial plan to relocate a US air base in Okinawa, turning a deaf ear to the outcome of a referendum on the island, in which locals resoundingly voiced their opposition to the construction of a new American base there.

According to Press TV, in the non-binding local referendum, which was held on Sunday, over 70 percent of voters in Okinawa said ‘No’ to the central government’s plan to relocate the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station — currently located in the densely-populated part of the island – to the remote coastal region of Henoko.

An air base was being built on a landfill in coastal Henoko. Support for the plan totaled only 19 percent.

The prime minister said on Monday that he was taking the results seriously and would work to obtain the understanding of Okinawa’s residents, but that the plans to move the base could not be deferred.

“We cannot avoid the necessity of moving Futenma, said to be the most dangerous base in the world,” he said.

Abe said that two decades had passed since Tokyo made an agreement with Washington to relocate the airbase — which is surrounded by schools, hospitals and shops — to a less populated area on the northern part of the island.

The plan has so far been stalled by local politicians, who argue that moving the base to another part of Japan is not a solution, since it would still pose an environmental threat.

The island hosts more than half of the nearly 47,000 American military service members stationed in Japan.

Okinawa Governor, Denny Tamaki, who strongly opposes the central government’s plan, said after the tally came out, “This holds extremely important meaning.”

He also called on the central government to engage in “conversation with Okinawa in order to resolve the fundamental issue, which is to close and return the land of Futenma US base as soon as possible.”

An ordinance requires the governor to respect the outcome and notify the premier and the US president if the top response was backed by more than 25 percent of eligible voters.

Okinawa residents have long demanded that the US base be totally removed from the island citing allegations of sexual abuse by the American soldiers.

Residents have also expressed disgruntlement following unending noise pollution and military accidents involving US military bases in the Japanese prefecture.

Anti-US sentiments have been on the rise after a US serviceman was found guilty in December 2017 of rape and murder of a 20-year-old Okinawa woman.