Okinawa governor tries again to get Abe to stop U.S. base transfer

Okinawa Gov Denny Tamaki on Tuesday called on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to engage in a one-month dialogue in his latest bid to halt the ongoing construction work to build a replacement facility for a key U.S. air base within the southern island prefecture.

Tamaki made the request after winning renewed backing from locals in his fight to stop the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma through a recent prefectural referendum. He also told Abe that the Okinawa government will withdraw an appeal filed with the top court over a lawsuit seeking suspension of the work.

"I want to create an environment for dialogue, rather than continuing legal battles," the governor told reporters after the meeting at the prime minister's office in Tokyo.

According to Tamaki, Abe did not clearly respond to whether he will agree to launch talks on the issue as requested and only said that the central government is moving ahead with the relocation work based on "various talks and confirmations."

Tamaki met Abe for the second time since March 1, when he reported the outcome of the prefectural referendum in February that showed over 70 percent of voters were opposed to the plan to transfer the Futenma base from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated coastal zone of Henoko.

The plebiscite was nonbinding on the central government, which has maintained the current relocation plan is the "only solution" to eliminate the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

The government has also continued to pour massive amounts of soil and sand in the Henoko coastal area for land reclamation since December.

The prefectural government has sought to stop the construction work by taking the issue to courts, but the attempts have not been successful.

In December, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court upheld a lower court ruling, dismissing an appeal by the Okinawa government to suspend the relocation on the grounds that the central government is destroying reefs on the seabed without permission.

While the prefectural government appealed the high court ruling in the same month, Tamaki said Tuesday he has ordered the prefectural government officials to withdraw the appeal.

Tamaki, meanwhile, said he has not yet decided whether to file a fresh lawsuit aimed at nullifying the Okinawa government's approval for the landfill work given in 2013. The local government retracted its permission in August last year, but the move has been overridden by the central government.

Many Okinawa residents have long hoped for the Futenma base to be moved out of the prefecture as they are frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents linked to the U.S. military presence.

Opponents of the relocation plan have also said the replacement facility will destroy the marine ecosystem off the Henoko coast — home to an endangered species of dugong.


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