Asia-Pacific

Okinawa governor re-elected in US base-dominated poll

Governor Hirokazu Nakaima celebrates in Naha, Okinawa (28 Nov 2010)
Image caption Mr Nakaima had in the past backed plans to relocate the base

The governor of Japan's Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, has been re-elected in a poll dominated by the issue of a controversial US base relocation plan.

Mr Nakaima, who opposes relocating Futenma airbase in Okinawa, repeated his call that it be moved.

He had faced tough opposition from Yoichi Iha - seen as an even more staunch opponent of the base plan.

The governor has the power to block the plan, which has severely strained ties between Tokyo and Washington.

Mr Nakaima, who was elected governor in 2006, had in the past endorsed the relocation plan but later changed his stance.

Speaking on Monday after securing a narrow victory, he promised to respect voters' wishes.

"I'll work in the direction the people of the prefecture want," he said.

Analysts say that officials in Tokyo and Washington will, however, be relieved at the outcome, as Mr Nakaima is viewed as potentially more open to negotiations on the base issue than Mr Iha.

Futenma airbase is located in the densely populated south of the island. Both the US and Japan want to relocate it to a new offshore facility at Camp Schwab in Henoko in the less populated north.

But residents and lawmakers there oppose the plan, as do environmentalists who say it will devastate marine life in the area.

Many residents also say that Futenma should be moved off Okinawa altogether - pointing to the fact that Okinawa hosts 74% of all US bases in Japan on less than 1% of its landmass.

The row has left ties between the US and Washington strained.

Under the half-century-old US-Japan security alliance, the US agrees to defend Japan in return for land for military bases.

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