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US base in Okinawa looms in Japan elections

Prime Minister Hatoyama’s vow to reexamine agreed-upon plans to move the Marines from Futenma, their US base in Okinawa, nears a May 31 deadline. What many see as his mishandling of the issue may cost him in parliament.

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Local residents raise their fists as they shout slogans during a rally to protest against the plan to relocate the US military base there from Okinawa, in Kagoshima, southern Japan May 8.

Kyodo/Reuters

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Yukio Hatoyama must regret his campaign pledge of last summer to guide Japan away from its subservience to US foreign policy.

While that message resonated among some voters, it has backed Japan’s prime minister into a corner from which he will be lucky to escape when the country votes in upper-house elections in July.

Since his election last August, the question of how security ties will develop in the long term has been supplanted by the fate of a single Marine Corps base on the southern island of Okinawa, home to more than half the 47,000 US troops in Japan.

Futenma base, located in the middle of the heavily populated city of Ginowan, has become a focal point for the local antibase movement, which poured 90,000 demonstrators onto the streets three weeks ago. It is also a test of the US’s willingness to reduce its military footprint in Japan.

Local resentment

The daily Asahi newspaper published a survey on Friday showing that 43 percent of Okinawans would like US forces to leave the island, while 42 percent just want the US military presence reduced.

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