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Okinawa rescinds approval of landfill work for Futenma base transfer

Kyodo

Okinawa Prefecture retracted Friday its approval for landfill work for the relocation of a key U.S. military base, citing illegalities in the procedure, in line with an instruction from late Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga.

The withdrawal of the approval, which was granted by Onaga’s predecessor in 2013, is seen as a last-ditch attempt to block the planned transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.

Before his death from pancreatic cancer on Aug. 8, Onaga had instructed local officials to launch procedures to retract the decision. The central government has postponed landfill work that was scheduled to begin on Aug. 17 without providing any explanation for the decision. The prefectural government’s move is expected to draw voters’ attention to the controversial base relocation issue in the run-up to the Sept. 30 contest to pick Onaga’s successor as well as a series of local assembly elections earlier in the month.

The Okinawa government is arguing that a local Defense Ministry bureau’s claim that the landfill work is legitimate is groundless as the bureau failed to consult with prefectural authorities on specific ways to proceed with the construction in violation of a prior agreement, a source close to the matter said.

The prefecture also maintains that the bureau’s measures to protect the local environment have been insufficient, the source said. The local government held a hearing on the points raised by the bureau and compiled a report of that meeting on Aug. 20. The withdrawal of the approval will immediately halt construction work for the base relocation, although the central government is expected to take legal action to resume the landfill process.

Onaga had opposed the plan to move the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, both on Okinawa’s main island, and demanded the facility be moved outside the prefecture.

In October 2015, Onaga revoked a decision by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, to approve the central government’s request for landfill work in Nago, pointing to the same legal “defects” in Nakaima’s decision. However, the Supreme Court ruled against Onaga’s position in December 2016, leading to the resumption of the construction.

The upcoming gubernatorial race is expected to be a two-way battle between opposition lawmaker Denny Tamaki, who was reportedly designated by Onaga as his preferred successor, and Atsushi Sakima, a former Ginowan mayor backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The Abe administration has been pushing for the base’s relocation within the prefecture, but Sakima has not made his position on the issue clear. Tamaki has expressed his opposition to the transfer, saying he will “fulfill the last wish” of Onaga.