Hatoyama promises again to ease base burden on Okinawa after rally

Kyodo News

TOKYO, April 26 KYODO

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised again Monday to try to alleviate the burden of hosting U.S. military facilities on people in Okinawa Prefecture and remove safety risks posed by a U.S. Marine base there, following the previous day’s massive protest rally in the village of Yomitan.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, meanwhile, on Monday denied the possibility that the government will end up accepting an existing plan to transfer the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futemma Air Station in Ginowan to another city in the southernmost prefecture.

In front of his official residence, Hatoyama told reporters, ”We certainly understand that it (the protest) is one form of public will.”

”As I have said, we will continue our efforts to realize the easing of the (base-related) burden on people in Okinawa and the removal of the danger of Futemma,” he said.

The government led by Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan, which took power last September, has been looking for alternatives to the existing plan and is aiming to resolve the base row by the end of May    

Speaking at a press conference, Hirano said a reversion to the existing plan ”won’t happen.”

 ”If that happens, what have we been studying for all these six or seven months? And it wouldn’t help reduce their burden,” Hirano said.   

 Hirano, the top government spokesman, also refused to comment on some media reports that Japan has presented a proposal to the United States that it will broadly accept the existing deal agreed to in 2006 by a previous Liberal Democratic Party-led government after somewhat modifying it.

On Sunday, a total of about 90,000 local residents and politicians, including Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, gathered in Yomitan, calling for the relocation of the Futemma base outside the prefecture that has hosted the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

 Under the 2006 accord, Japan and the United States agreed to relocate the base from its current location in the center of a residential area to a less-crowded coastal area of the Marines’ Camp Schwab in Nago as part of a broader realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Japan.

Hatoyama has been seeking an alternative relocation site outside Okinawa as he promised during the campaign for last year’s general election, while Washington has pressed Tokyo to stick to the existing plan.

The premier has been considering moving the facility to Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, 200 kilometers north of Okinawa, but the three towns on the island are dead set against the idea, making it even more difficult for him to settle the issue by his self-imposed deadline.