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Okinawa referendum rejects new US military base, but Abe is likely to press | World news

Voices on the South Japanese island of Okinawa have rejected the controversial relocation of a US military base in a referendum, according to local media, but the outcome is likely to be ignored by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Kyodo News Agency said its exit survey forecast showed that more than a quarter of Okinawo's 1.16 million eligible voters had the opposite plan: a threshold that requires the island's governor, Denny Tamaki, to "respect" its results. Public broadcaster NHK said a majority of voters had come out against the move supported by Japanese and American governments. Sunday's non-binding referendum asked voters if they opposed, supported or held no opinion on the construction of a military base in Henoko, a fishing village on the island's north-east coast that is home to coral reefs and one of the few remaining habitats in the dugong. The new facility will replace the Navy's Futenma air base, which is located in a densely populated city on the island. Futenma has attracted complaints about crimes committed by service personnel, noise and threats to air accidents in an area close to home and schools. Critics say that the Henoko base will destroy the area's delicate marine ecosystems and threaten the security of 2000 residents living near the site. Resistance to the US military presence at Okinawa increased after the dismissal and rape of a 12-year-old girl of three US soldiers in 1995 A year later, Tokyo and Washington agreed to reduce US military footprint at Okinawa by…

Voices on the South Japanese island of Okinawa have rejected the controversial relocation of a US military base in a referendum, according to local media, but the outcome is likely to be ignored by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Kyodo News Agency said its exit survey forecast showed that more than a quarter of Okinawo’s 1.16 million eligible voters had the opposite plan: a threshold that requires the island’s governor, Denny Tamaki, to “respect” its results. Public broadcaster NHK said a majority of voters had come out against the move supported by Japanese and American governments.

Sunday’s non-binding referendum asked voters if they opposed, supported or held no opinion on the construction of a military base in Henoko, a fishing village on the island’s north-east coast that is home to coral reefs and one of the few remaining habitats in the dugong.

The new facility will replace the Navy’s Futenma air base, which is located in a densely populated city on the island. Futenma has attracted complaints about crimes committed by service personnel, noise and threats to air accidents in an area close to home and schools.

Critics say that the Henoko base will destroy the area’s delicate marine ecosystems and threaten the security of 2000 residents living near the site.

Resistance to the US military presence at Okinawa increased after the dismissal and rape of a 12-year-old girl of three US soldiers in 1995

A year later, Tokyo and Washington agreed to reduce US military footprint at Okinawa by closing Futenma and moving its functions to Henoko. But most Okinawans want the new base to be built elsewhere in Japan.

Some voters complained that the Tokyo government routinely ignored their objections to the presence of US military personnel and bases.

“There are so many American troops here. Of course, ninety-five percent of them are good people, but then there is one percent doing bad things. It’s hard for us,” Tomomichi Shimabukuro, who runs a seaside, said before vote.

Political and legal challenges to the construction work at Henoko have annoyed US officials who insist that marinas are needed at Okinawa to respond to crises in potential regional flashpoints in the South and East China Sea, as well as the emergence of a nuclear armed North Korea.

Abe claims that the replacement base is the only way to ease the pressure on residents living near the Futenma base while maintaining Japan’s commitment to its security alliance with the United States.

While the “no” vote is not legally binding, the government risks accusing it of rejecting the local feeling without continuing with land reclamation work in the sea from Henoko. [19659002] Jun Shimabukuro, a professor at Ryukyus University in Okinawa, said the referendum was an important opportunity for the island’s residents to get their voices heard. “It could be a test to judge whether democracy works in Japan,” Shimabukuro said before the vote.

Tamaki, who was elected in September in September, promised to oppose the basic move, described the vote as a “precious” opportunity to communicate Okinawa’s opposition to the state.

Col John Hutcheson, a spokesman for US forces Japan, said the relocation plan would allow the US military to close Futenma while protecting “vital opportunities” to ensure regional security.

“We are committed to maintaining good relations with local communities at Okinawa and doing our best every day to balance their concerns with the necessity of maintaining readiness in support of our treaty commitments,” Hutcheson said as he declined to comment directly on vote.

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