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Abe’s pick for Okinawa governor race silent on U.S. Futenma base relocation

Kyodo

A candidate running in Okinawa’s gubernatorial election this month with the backing of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party did not clarify his stance on the most contentious issue when releasing his campaign pledges Monday.

Atsushi Sakima, the former mayor of Ginowan, did not make clear where he stands on the controversial plan to relocate a major U.S. military base within the prefecture.

Sakima is running with the backing of Abe and his ruling coalition, which is pressing to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s operations from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less-populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago.

“I will realize the return (of the base premises) as soon as possible and seek a revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement,” Sakima told a news conference where he unveiled his campaign platform.

But Sakima did not make clear whether he supports the plan to move the base operations to Henoko. Many Okinawans strongly oppose the plan as they would like the base moved somewhere outside the prefecture, which currently hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

In the Sept. 30 election, Sakima, 54, is running against Denny Tamaki, 58, an opposition representative at the Diet in Tokyo who is opposed to the transfer plan, and other candidates.

The election is being held to fill the post left vacant by the recent death of Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who fiercely confronted the central government over the relocation plan and led efforts to reduce the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

Following Onaga’s instruction the prefecture last week retracted its approval for landfill work at the relocation site, claiming illegality in the application process. This has stopped the Defense Ministry from restarting construction work.

In his campaign pledges, Sakima said he would invite a U.N. organization to use the U.S. base site in Ginowan once it is returned to Japan. He also promised to promote the local economy and increase Okinawa’s per-capita income, which is the lowest among the nation’s 47 prefectures.