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New Nago mayor insists he opposes a new airbase plan

Date Posted: 2006-01-27

Yoshikazu Shimabukuro campaigned for Nago City mayor promising to improve the local economy, and to restructure any deal on a new military airfield in the district.

Shimabukuro won on Sunday, a rainy day that brought 43,000 voters to the polls to cast ballots on what direction Nago City should move. The turnout was about 75%, about three percent fewer voters than the last election four years ago.

The new mayor, along with Munehiro Gakiya and Yoshitami Oshiro, had spoken strongly against accepting the plan decided last October by the U.S. and Japanese governments to build a replacement airfield for Futenma Marine Corps Air Station within the confines of Camp Schwab. That plan called for constructing a new 2,000 meter runway on the base, half on land and half on reclaimed land in the bay.

Voters polled Sunday said they were more concerned about Nago’s ailing economy than they were about the new airbase issue. Shimabukuro, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, as well as outgoing mayor Tateo Kishimoto, promised actions to revive the economy.

Some voters warned, however, that Shimabukuro could do a backflip and support the base issue when pressure is applied. “he is opposed to the relocation,” says Chieko Yonamine, “but when push comes to shove, he’s going to give in to pressure in exchange for promises to fund his pet projects.” Yonamine, a 26-year-old restaurant worker, says she would rather have seen one of the other two candidates win, because “they were far more serious about opposing the new base.”

Keiko Higa, who owns a small drug store in Nago, says the “economy is really hurting now, and it is very difficult to find good jobs.” The 60-yeqar-old Higa says the citgy needs a mayor focused on “making economic revitalization a top priority.”

Shimabukuro, the former chairman of the city assembly, called the present airfield plan “unacceptable” Monday, and said he prefers a return to a plan that would have the new airfield constructed entirely over water. An earlier plan for Henoko specified an airport built over reclaimed land in Oura Bay, but it fell by the wayside a year ago because of political and environmental concerns.

The new mayor insists there can be no deal as it now stands, but says “If a plan is acceptable to the city, we will hold talks.” Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine opposes the present plan, and Shimabukuro assured nervous constituents he would not accept any new deal without agreements without working with the governor. Even as Shimabukuro insists there are no deals in the works, reports have surfaced about a group of Nago business leaders with close links to both the new mayor and Kishimoto, the outgoing mayor, to present a new runway plan. The construction company headed by Higashi Kaihatsu is reportedly suggesting the airport be built as designed, only 800 meters south of the present planned location. The business leaders think the new location would drastically reduce noise from the airport, a primary concern from many residents.

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