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In reversal, Japan's Hatoyama says Marines can stay on Okinawa

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama backtracked from a campaign promise to close a controversial US Marine base on Okinawa. He said he was bowing to strategic reality, but the reversal is costing him support at home.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama passes by a banner reading 'Keep the promise' during his tour to Okinawa, southern Japan, Sunday. Hatoyama apologized Sunday to the people of Okinawa for backing away from his campaign promise to move a US military base off the island.

Kyodo News/AP

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Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama backed away from a campaign promise to close the Futenma US Marine base on Okinawa, saying the base should remain open "considering the current situation on the Korean peninsula."

Prime Minister Hatoyama said Japan will honor the terms of a 2006 agreement with Washington, which calls for the base to be relocated to a less densely inhabited part of the island.

The current base in Ginowan City houses about 4,000 Marines. The new base, complete with runways built on land reclaimed from the sea, will be built near Camp Schwab in the more remote Cape Henoko district of northern Okinawa. Mr. Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan promised the base closure ahead of its historic election win last August, and there has been domestic anger over his failure to take action since. The Ginowan City base is deeply unpopular with Okinawans.

Okinawa houses almost half of the 47,000 US service personnel in Japan and three-quarters of the US military bases, despite accounting for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land mass. Hatoyama claimed he would “ease the burden” of the military presence on Okinawa, both while in opposition and after becoming prime minister.

After raising Okinawan hopes the base would be moved off island – which saw fierce fighting during WWII and was only returned to Japan in 1971 – Hatoyama has ended up following the path chosen by the previous administration.

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