Japan

Abe’s pick in Okinawa governor’s race vague on U.S. base relocation

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A major candidate running for governor of Okinawa in an election this month with the backing of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party did not clarify his stand on the single most contentious issue when releasing his campaign pledges Monday.

Atsushi Sakima, the former mayor of Ginowan, did not clarify where he stands on the controversial plan to relocate a major U.S. military base within the prefecture.

Sakima is running with the backing of Abe and his ruling coalition, which is pressing to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan, to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago.

"I will realize the return (of the base premises) as soon as possible and seek a revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement," Sakima told a press conference where he unveiled his campaign platform.

But Sakima did not make clear whether he supports the plan to move the base to Henoko, which many Okinawans strongly oppose as they want it moved somewhere outside Japan's southernmost prefecture, where the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan are located.

In the Sept 30 election, Sakima, 54, is running against Denny Tamaki, 58, an opposition member of the national parliament in Tokyo who is opposed to the transfer plan, and other candidates.

The election is being held to fill the post left vacant by the recent death of former Gov Takeshi Onaga, who fiercely confronted the central government over the relocation plan and led efforts to reduce the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

Following Onaga's instruction, the prefecture last week retracted its approval for landfill work at the relocation site, claiming illegality in the application process. Doing so has stopped the Defense Ministry from restarting construction work.

In his campaign pledges, Sakima said he would invite a U.N. organization to utilize the U.S. base site in Ginowan once it is returned. He also promised to promote the local economy and increase Okinawa's per-capita income, the lowest among Japan's 47 prefectures.

© KYODO

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