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Campaigning opens in Okinawa US base relocation vote

14th February 2019 - 13:19 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Tokyo

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Campaigning began 14 February 2019 ahead of a referendum in Japan's Okinawa on the relocation of a US military base to a remote part of the island. The non-binding vote will be held on 24 February, with Governor Denny Tamaki campaigning against the relocation of the Futenma airbase.

The base is currently located in a densely-populated part of the southern island, and has caused frictions with local residents over everything from noise to accidents. In a bid to resolve the long-running tensions, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has backed a plan to move the base to a coastal area, reclaiming land for part of the proposed new site.

But residents opposed to the move want the base moved out of Okinawa altogether, arguing that the region bears a disproportionate burden when it comes to hosting US military troops in the country. Okinawa accounts for less than 1% of Japan's total land area, but hosts more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.

Noise, accidents and crimes committed by military personnel and civilian base employees have long angered Okinawans, many of whom want other parts of the country to house bases instead. But the archipelago's location near Taiwan has long been viewed as having huge strategic importance for US forward positioning in Asia.

And Abe's government has shown little sign of willingness to consider relocating Futenma to another part of the country or otherwise changing the spread of US military forces in Japan.

The referendum was initially planned as a yes-no vote on the move, but a ‘neither’ option has been added to the ballot after opposition from several cities with close ties to the central government. Those cities had threatened to opt out of the vote altogether, but the addition of the ‘neither’ option means the referendum will be held across Okinawa.

Another referendum was held in 1996, with nearly nine in 10 people agreeing that US bases should be ‘reduced’ in the area.

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