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by Our Foreign Desk
JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the governor of the southern island of Okinawa clashed yesterday over relocation of the controversial Futenma US air base.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of US forces in Japan, and Mr Abe’s government has been at odds with air-base opponent Takeshi Onaga since the latter was elected governor last November and Okinawa candidates from the ruling party lost an election.
Tensions over plans to move the US Futenma base to land to be reclaimed from waters near the town of Henoko in northern Okinawa escalated last month when Mr Onaga ordered a halt to underwater survey work, claiming the survey was harming coral reefs.
Mr Onaga insists that the base should be moved outside Okinawa, where many residents have long resented the presence of US forces.
As the two met, anti-base protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s office.
“Keep your dirty hands off Henoko,” one placard read.
The prime minister said Futenma posed a danger to residents and must be moved.
“I believe the relocation to Henoko is the only solution,” he insisted.
Mr Abe, who is due to visit Washington, appeared to be trying to show the White House that he was doing his best to resolve the problem.
But Mr Onaga countered that the people of Okinawa were overwhelmingly opposed to the new base.
“I will never allow a new base in Henoko,” he said, adding that he had asked Mr Abe to convey his stance to US President Barack Obama.
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