Referendum on the US base in Okinawa on 24 February

The islanders challenge Abe. Some 90,000 signatures were collected in favour of the vote. Japanese authorities want to relocate the base from Ginowan to Henoko. Residents oppose the move because of pollution, dangers, and relations with US military.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki announced a referendum on the relocation of the US base at Futenma on 24 February, a move intended to reassert local opposition to central government plans to move it within the prefecture. Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu Islands.

Tamaki was elected governor in late September by defeating a central government-backed pro-relocation candidate by a wide margin.

He not only wants the Futenma facility closed and the land returned to Okinawan sovereignty, he also fiercely opposes its relocation to Henoko.

Islanders have been opposed to the US Air Force base in Okinawa for quite some time. They complain of noise, pollution, the risk of accidents and collisions.

In addition, relations with US military personnel have been tense as a result of violence by US servicemen. in 1995, three Americans raped a local girl who was only 12 years old.

By virtue of an agreement with Washington, Japanese authorities are working to reclaim the coastal area of ​​Henoko, near the city of Nago (northern sector of the island) to host the US Marine Air Base , which is now located in Ginowan (southern sector).

Civic groups lobbied for a referendum by collecting more than 90,000 signatures to step up their objection to the move to Henoko.

A proposed ordinance for a referendum on whether islanders support reclamation of Henoko was approved at a 26 October session of the Okinawa prefectural assembly.

The central government resumed work to reclaim the coastal area of Henoko this month after it suspended the project in late August.

The only other prefecture-wide referendum in Okinawa was held in 1996 to gauge the extent of opposition to the disproportionately high US military presence there and calls for a review of the 1960 Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement, which stipulates the jurisdiction and legal status of US military forces in Japan.

Voter turnout on that occasion was 59.53 per cent. Voter support for scaling down US presence and a review was 89.09 per cent.

At that time, Okinawa was home to about 75 per cent of all US military facilities in Japan. Now, its hosts about 70 percent.