• Kyodo

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Japan might move up the start date for building the replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa to this fall instead of next spring, an official said Saturday.

By advancing the date, which could allow work to begin before a potential gubernatorial election in November, the government wants to show that it intends suspend operations at the air base within five years as sought by Okinawa, the official said.

Many residents have long blocked the plan to shift the contentious base northward to Nago’s Henoko district from densely populated Ginowan.

But if the construction work starts in the fall and opposition grows, concerns may emerge within the government about the project’s impact on the gubernatorial election.

Since Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved in December the landfill work necessary to relocate the Futenma base to Henoko, the government has held tenders for surveys related to the project.

Tokyo and Washington first agreed on the transfer in 1996, but it has been stymied by nearly two decades of political wrangling and anti-U.S. military sentiment in Okinawa.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised financial and other support to Okinawa to win Nakaima’s approval for the work.

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