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Futenma issue returns to center stage

Date Posted: 2006-12-01

Governor-elect Hirokazu Nakaima promises to be flexible and willing to talk about the future creation of a new military airfield in northern Okinawa to replace a controversial base in Ginowan City.

At the same time, the 67-year-old businessman-politician says heíll oppose the V-shape runway design now scheduled for the new airfield to be constructed at Camp Schwab and Cape Henoko, near Nago City.

Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, Nakaima repeatedly said he considered the present Futenma relocation plan a viable option, but downplayed the proposed layout of the two runways.

Nakaima says heís ready to discuss the construction design with the central government in Tokyo, a position seen as more flexible than the man heís replacing. He says the V-shape runways will cause noise and potential danger to residential areas adjacent to the Camp Schwab Marine Base.

Nakaima takes office December 9th, nearly three weeks after his 37,318 votes win over anti-bases candidate Keiko Itokazu. Nakaima picked up 347,303 votes to Itokazuís 309,985, leading both his Liberal Democratic Party and Japanís Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to breathe a sigh of relief. Itokazu has led the opposition party in its challenges to constructing any new military installations on Okinawa, including the replacement for Futenma.

Current governor Keiichi Inamine has been a critic of the plan to build an airfield to replace Futenma, which sits in the center of heavily populated Ginowan City in central Okinawa. He earlier had endorsed a plan for building an offshore airport near Camp Schwab that would have served both the military and civilian communities. That plan fell apart following environmental, political and economic challenges to the project. Inamine then demanded any new airfield be built outside Okinawa.

The central government is moving quickly to send positive signals to Okinawa. In order to meet a deadline of starting construction in 2010 and airfield completion by 2014, the government has announced plans to ante up major subsidies and grants to Okinawa in a bill headed for the Diet. Defense Agency Director Fumio Kyuma is touting the urgency of settling the Okinawa issues, pointing out the relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines to Guam and the closing of several American bases, hinges on the new airfield.

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