Japan

Nago citizens hope for jobs, worry about U.S. base after mayoral race

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Residents of an Okinawa city on Monday voiced hopes for more jobs as well as worries about a planned new U.S. military base in their community, a day after a newcomer calling for economic stimulus defeated the antibase incumbent in a mayoral election.

In Sunday's election in Nago, Taketoyo Toguchi, 56, backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, beat Susumu Inamine, 72, who has been opposed to the controversial Japan-U.S. plan to transfer to the city the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in a crowded residential area in the southern Japanese island prefecture.

Some citizens expressed hope that Toguchi, a former local assembly member who pledged to improve the local economy during his election campaign, will create more jobs. Okinawa's average jobless rate stood at 3.8 percent in 2017, the highest among prefectures in Japan, according to government data.

"I want (Toguchi) to create more employment opportunities for my children," said Susumu Matsugawa, 55, who has five children.

A 38-year-old mother of two said outside the Nago municipal government office that she is worried about the city's response under the new mayor if a U.S. military accident occurs.

"We won't have a say even if a U.S. military aircraft crashes. I wonder whether our safety will be maintained," said the woman.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, and accidents involving U.S. military aircraft and crimes involving American personnel have repeatedly angered local residents.

The mayoral election was held after a window fell from a U.S. military helicopter onto a local elementary school in December and three other American choppers made forced landings in January.

Antibase campaigners were disappointed at the election outcome but several dozen people held a rally early Monday morning to protest the planned base transfer to the sparsely populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

"I am frustrated (by the outcome), but we should not end our opposition movement," said Shigeru Sakihama, 69, who was at the forefront of the protest rally held in front of the gates of the U.S. Marines' Camp Schwab, the planned relocation site.

A 65-year-old taxi driver in the city said he voted for Toguchi this time, saying, "The base will be constructed no matter what. Nothing changed in the eight years (under Inamine as mayor)," he said. "I've heard many people say they are tired of talk about the base."

While the prefectural government wants the Futenma base to be moved out of Okinawa altogether, the state has maintained that relocating the airfield within the island is "the only solution" to removing its dangers to local residents without undermining the deterrence provided by American troops under the Japan-U.S. alliance.

© KYODO

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