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Okinawa governor to drop call to kick out U.S. air base

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima will not include a call to kick Futenma air base out of the prefecture at next week’s ceremony commemorating the 69th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, prefectural officials said Thursday.

The move comes six months after the governor approved a landfill project in Nago’s Henoko district needed to build a replacement base for the facility, which angered anti-base activists and a group representing the families of those lost in the battle.

It is also likely to increase tensions between Nakaima, who has indicated he wants to run for a third term this autumn, and his potential challenger, Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga, who, although opposed to the Henoko relocation plan, is gaining ground among those who once backed Nakaima.

More than 5,800 people attended last year’s June 23 ceremony, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Since 2012, the ceremony has included a recital of a peace declaration by the governor that calls on Tokyo to move Futenma outside Okinawa and to revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement to give local officials more authority over U.S. military personnel.

Last December, in a decision that angered even his close supporters, Nakaima approved the central government’s request for a landfill project to build the Futenma replacement base in Nago’s Henoko district. For this year’s ceremony, the governor will consider the Futenma issue settled, even if others do not.

Naeko Teruya, chairwoman of an association of local bereaved families, said there was no reason to change the declaration, and that Nakaima’s last-minute edit was a betrayal. Hiroji Yamashiro of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, a collection of anti-base activists, also expressed anger at the decision.

The move could further split Nakaima’s support base. In recent weeks, the anti-Henoko Onaga has been picking up support from business leaders, conservatives and others who backed Nakaima in the 2010 election, creating growing headaches for the prefecture’s pro-base movement and for the Abe administration.
 

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