11:06 GMT +319 July 2019
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    US helicopters and planes parked at Futenma US Marine Base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture (File)

    Japan to Promote Relocation of US Base in Okinawa Regardless of Referendum

    © AFP 2019 / TORU YAMANAKA
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    TOKYO (Sputnik) - The Japanese government will continue to promote the relocation of a US military base in Okinawa regardless of the outcome of a referendum in the prefecture on that issue, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday at a press conference.

    Suga, when asked whether the government will continue working to relocate US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the densely populated Okinawan city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of the same prefecture despite of the results of the referendum, said that "in general we think this way".

    READ MORE: Okinawa Governor Urges Tokyo to Stop Land Reclamation for US Airfield — Reports

    An official campaign was announced earlier in the day to prepare a referendum in Okinawa on the transfer of the Futenma military base in Okinawa to the Henoko district where Nago is located. The referendum is scheduled for February 24. A bulletin will contain three options — for, against, neither one nor the other one. There are 1.15 million voters in the prefecture and while the referendum is not legally binding its results could cause a split among the prefecture's population and exacerbate the contradictions between local authorities and the government in Tokyo.

    US Marine Corps base Futenma was constructed in 1945. Talks on its relocation to a less populated area within the Okinawa prefecture started over two decades ago, but the government's plans have been hampered by Nago residents' protests. While Ginowan residents have been calling on the government to close the Futenma base due to environmental concerns, aircraft incidents, and accidents related to US troops behaviour, Nago residents are also unwilling to see the base relocated to their city. The administration of Okinawa would like to see the base relocated outside the prefecture

    READ MORE: Island of Bases: Okinawans' Struggle to Withdraw US Troops From Their Home

    The relocation of the US base was launched in 2017. In August 2018, the prefecture's authorities revoked the land reclamation permit for the new site, citing concerns over the soft ground in the area. In early November, however, the relocation process resumed as Tokyo reversed the ban by local authorities.

    The plans to relocate the US air base have sparked protests among tens of thousands of local residents demanding that the facility be removed from Okinawa completely, and not just moved to another location.

    Okinawa, which accounts for a small fraction of Japan's territory, hosts 74 percent of US military facilities and more than half of all US forces deployed in Japan.

    Related:

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    Okinawa military base, Japan, United States
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