Mon, Feb 25, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Okinawans vote in referendum on US base removal plan


An Okinawan woman yesterday casts her referendum ballot at a polling station in Nago, Japan.

Photo: AP / Kyodo News

The people of Okinawa yesterday voted on a plan for a US military base relocation in a referendum that will send a message on how they feel about housing US troops in Japan, who many see as a burden on the group of tiny islands.

The referendum is technically not binding, but interest is high for testing the public sentiment about the plan to relocate US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is pushed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government.

The plan has its beginnings in 1995, when outrage erupted against US service members over the rape of a 12-year-old girl, although Futenma has long been criticized as dangerous, being in a residential area.

Washington also agreed to transfer some personnel to the US Pacific territory of Guam.

A replacement base is on a coastal landfill in an area called Henoko. Critics say wildlife such as coral reefs and the dugong would be hurt.

“There are so many American troops here. Of course, 99 percent of them are good people, but then there is that 1 percent who do evil things. It’s hard for us,” said Tomomichi Shimabukuro, who runs a seaside inn called Churaumi-kun.

“I feel most people of Okinawa are going to vote in protest of the plan,” he said in telephone interview.

Japanese media surveys have shown voters are likely to reject the Henoko plan.

Nearly 1.16 million residents were eligible to vote.

The referendum asked: “On the landfill for the construction of the US military base planned by the government in Henoko, Nago city, to replace Futenma air base,” with the answers being: “I agree,” “I oppose,” or “Neither.”

Okinawa makes up less than 1 percent of Japan’s land space, but it houses about half of the 54,000 US troops stationed in Japan.

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