Japan

Anti-base Okinawa governor-elect says he is ready to talk with Tokyo

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Okinawa governor-elect Denny Tamaki, who is opposed to the controversial relocation of a key U.S. military base within the southern island prefecture, said Monday he is ready to talk with the central government on the issue.

"I am not planning to take an opposing or confrontational position (with the central government) from the start," Tamaki told reporters at his home, a day after beating former Ginowan mayor Atsushi Sakima supported by the ruling coalition and two other candidates in the gubernatorial race.

"I will exchange opinions (with Tokyo) candidly, if there are issues we can consider during the consultations," Tamaki also said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at his office the government took the election results "seriously" and will step up efforts to revitalize Okinawa's economy and reduce the prefecture's burden of hosting U.S. bases.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a Monday's press conference that Abe or he would like to meet with Tamaki as soon as possible "if the schedule permits." But he did not specify a date.

The top government spokesman also underlined that the central government will not change its position of seeking to realize the base relocation swiftly regardless of the election result.

Tamaki and Sakima were vying for leadership of the prefecture following the death of the previous governor, Takeshi Onaga, of cancer in early August.

Onaga was a staunch opponent of the Japan-U.S. plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, both in Okinawa.

Tamaki said he believes his victory reflected Okinawan people's "wish to continue with Mr Onaga's determination to have no more bases built in the prefecture."

The 58-year-old radio personality-turned-politician garnered a record-high 396,632 votes, while Sakima, 54, gained 316,458 votes. Onaga's son Takeharu, a Naha city assembly member, backed Tamaki.

The governor-elect has said he supports the prefectural government's withdrawal in August of approval for landfill work necessary for the U.S. base transfer, which has halted construction of a new base, and a plan to hold a referendum on the relocation issue.

About 60 antibase activists staged a sit-in Monday in front of the gate of the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab, located next to the relocation site in Nago, in a show of their resolve to block the base transfer together with the new Okinawa leader.

Kazuo Senaga, the 55-year-old secretary general of an organization calling for the removal of U.S. bases in Okinawa, said Tamaki's victory "again demonstrated the local people's will to reject the bases."

The Futenma relocation, first agreed on in 1996, has been a sensitive issue in Okinawa, which was under U.S. control between 1945 and 1972 following Japan's defeat in World War II. The prefecture hosts the bulk of U.S. military installations in Japan and many locals want the Futenma base moved outside of the prefecture.

During the campaign, both Tamaki and Sakima called for the prompt closure of the Futenma base and the return of the site to Japan, citing safety concerns. But Sakima did not clarify his stance on its relocation, drawing criticism from some voters.

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said, "We congratulate Denny Tamaki on his election as governor of Okinawa and look forward to working with him."

"The United States deeply values the contributions made by Okinawa to the U.S.-Japan alliance and our two nations' mutual security," the spokesperson told Kyodo News.

Tamaki, whose father was a member of the U.S. military whom he never met, served as a House of Representatives member for the opposition Liberal Party. He was backed by four other opposition parties and a parliamentary group in the race.

Sakima received support from the LDP led by Abe and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, with the opposition Japan Innovation Party also behind him.

The base construction has been put on hold since the prefectural government retracted the landfill work approval in line with Onaga's instructions in July, claiming illegality in the application process. The local and central governments are expected to fight a legal battle over the resumption of the work.

© KYODO

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