The re-election of the communist-supported mayor of a city on the Japanese island of Okinawa is being seen as a major setback in efforts to relocate the locally unpopular U.S. military base.
The conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to move ahead anyway with the relocattion to a less populated section of Okinawa.
But that could spark mass protests, the New York Times reports
Locals want the base— 34 military facilities in all— off the island altogether, according to the Times. It was a source of tension in U.S.-Japan relations even before three Marines raped a 12 year-old Japanese schoolgirl in 1995.
The base, with its 25,000 personnel, is viewed by its neighbors as a source of crime and pollution
Mayor Susumu Inamine of Nago overcame his government supported conservative opponent by 19,839 to 15,684 votes. Abe had strongly supported the challenger offering public works inducements to sway the electorate.
Inamine said, "Without the mayor's approval and consent [the base relocation] process cannot go forward. In order to protect the future for our children, I will not allow a new base to be built."
Abe has tried to circumvent Inamine by cutting a deal with the island's governor. However, the relocation would involve construction of offshore runways for the base's air operations and the mayor would still need to approve the use of ports and roads, according to the Times.
The government is keen to resolve the issue. "We will continue to work for the development of Okinawa and reduction of the base presence," said Takeo Kawamura, a spokesman for Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.
Okinawa is strategically essential to the U.S. as a deterrent to China, The Wall Street Journal reported
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