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Bases realignment plan picks up steam

Date Posted: 2004-10-07

The Japanese government says it will try to relieve Okinawa’s military burden by relocating American forces to the mainland.

In making the commitment over the past week, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi acknowledges that he faces an uphill road from local mainland governments that are opposed to taking the U.S. forces from Okinawa. “The government will consult,” says Koizumi, “then we’ll negotiate with the U.S.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuko Hosoda echoes the prime minister’s thinking that there needs to be change. Koizumi several weeks ago promised U.S. President George Bush he’d try to help. Hosoda says Japan has already asked American government leaders to independently take measures to reduce the strain on Okinawa, where U.S. forces are significant. Some 75% of the American troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa.

An August helicopter crash just off the Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan triggered protests from residents of Okinawa, the site of fierce ground battles during the last days of World War II. Okinawans, since reversion to Japanese control from America in 1972, have opposed the presence of the U.S. military, and have demanded Americans move its forces elsewhere.

"The prime minister's intention (to push for base relocation) is very strong," a Japanese spokesman in Tokyo said. The spokesman refused to talk about which areas of mainland Japan are initial sites for shifting American bases from Okinawa, saying premature disclosure could start protests.

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