05/06/2010, 00.00
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Tokyo makes U-turn on US base in Okinawa

Newspapers and political leaders slam Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama who ran his campaign against the US base on the southern island. His government is now in a free-fall, at 20 per cent of support.
Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (pictured) is now confronted by another crisis, purely political in nature. After being hit by a financial scandal and questions over his wife, Mr Hatoyama now has to defend his U-turn on the US Okinawa airbase, a move some have deemed “shameful”.

During his election campaign, Prime Minister Hatoyama had made closing the US base, even partially, part of his platform. Now he has dropped that demand so as not to hurt American sensibilities.

“The government's recent disarray appears shameful,” the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun said in an editorial. "Needless to say, Prime Minister Hatoyama bears the greatest responsibility."

On his first visit to the sub-tropical island since he took office in September, Hatoyama yesterday apologised for his failure to meet his election pledge to remove the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Okinawa entirely.

Hatoyama had long vowed to review an accord made in 2006 by previous governments in Tokyo and Washington under which the base should be moved from its crowded urban location to a quieter coastal area on Okinawa.

Islanders have expressed their opposition to moving the base anywhere on the group of islands, sometimes with violence.

Now the prime minister is running out of time as the 31 May deadline approaches. If he fails to meet it, the 2006 agreement would be null and void.

"The prime minister has stated that he would stake his job on the resolution by the end of May. The words are grave," the Mainichi Shimbun said. "If he fails, it will be certain that his political responsibility should be rigorously examined."

Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki is even harsher. "It's a clear breach of promises and for people in Okinawa, it's a betrayal," he said. "It would be natural for the prime minister to resign"

The latest opinion polls in Japan have put support for Hatoyama and his cabinet at just over 20 per cent, sharply down from 72 per cent in September when he took office.

"Prime Minister Hatoyama can't help but lose his political influence further," said Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo. "It would not be a surprise if calls for his resignation spread to his ruling coalition," he added.

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