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Okinawa governor changes stance to demand Marine air units be moved off island

GINOWAN, Okinawa — In a move to counter his more radical opponent in November’s election, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Tuesday called for Marine air units to be moved off the island.

It’s the first time Nakaima, who has reluctantly supported the move of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new air strip to be built on Camp Schwab, called for abandoning the project to move the Marines from the middle of crowded urban Ginowan to the shores of rural northeast Okinawa.

“We’re set to demand that the national government move the base out of the prefecture,” Nakaima, who is running for his second term, said during a meeting of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, according to a prefectural spokesman.

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It shows the governor is taking a harder stand against the plan the United States and Japan reaffirmed in May to build a new air facility on Schwab and landfill in Oura Bay. Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, Nakaima merely called for a review of the agreement.

"I have repeatedly expressed my concern over the joint agreement made by the U.S. and Japanese governments in May and warned the governments that moving Futenma operations to Henoko in Nago would be extremely difficult," Nakaima told the assembly, according to Tatsuo Oyakawa, chief of the Okinawa prefectural government's military affairs office.

"Having given consideration to situations surrounding Okinawa over the issue, including the result of Nago mayor's election, the protest resolution unanimously adopted by the prefectural assembly against the relocation plan, as well as a mass rally (in April), I have come to a conclusion that it would be extremely difficult to carry out a relocation plan that is not supported by the local communities," Nakaima said.

"In consideration of all this, I will demand the government review the joint agreement and move the air operations outside of Okinawa," he said.

The governor faces Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha, who wants Futenma closed at once and the Marines moved off Okinawa – if not outside Japan altogether.

Iha welcomed Nakaima's decision to oppose any relocation of the units on Okinawa, saying it sends a "united voice of Okinawa" against the relocation plan.

"His announcement will send an unmistakable message," Iha said during a recess of a Ginowan City Council meeting Wednesday.

Opposition to the Futenma relocation plan is strong on Okinawa, where U.S. military bases cover a fifth of the island. In April about 90,000 people rallied against the plan and last month anti-base candidates won a clear majority in the municipal assembly of Nago, where Schwab is located.

allend@pstripes.osd.mil

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report
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