26 Okinawa mayors demand US base reductions amid increased tensions
By ERIC JOHNSTON | The Japan Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 8, 2016
OSAKA, Japan (Tribune News Service) — The mayors of 26 towns and villages hosting U.S. bases in Okinawa plan to formally present new demands Thursday calling for Tokyo to reduce the prefecture’s burden in supporting American military personnel and fundamentally revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
The move comes as Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine is in Hawaii, attending the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress.
At a news conference in Honolulu on Sunday, Inamine said the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Nago’s Henoko district, which all 26 mayors are against, is going forward despite strong local opposition and amid violence on the part of police toward anti-base protesters.
The demands and Inamine’s Hawaii visit coincide with a planned trip this weekend to Okinawa by Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, her first since being appointed to the post.
They also come just before a key ruling by the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court on a lawsuit involving Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who also opposes the Henoko move, and the central government.
Tokyo claims Onaga acted illegally when he revoked permission for a Henoko-related landfill project that had been granted by his predecessor. The verdict is expected to be handed down Sept. 16.
The formal demands by the Okinawa mayors calling for the base burden reduction is an annual event.
This year, though, tensions are high following increased confrontations between police and anti-base protesters in the Henoko area and the murder of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro, allegedly by American military contractor Kenneth Franklin Shinzato.
Earlier this month, in an attempt to address Okinawan concerns, Tokyo and Washington agreed to conduct training exercises involving the controversial MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft on Guam and Tinian Island as opposed to the island prefecture where they are based. The training exercises are expected to begin in mid-September and last around three weeks.
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