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U.S. base opponent Inamine set to be re-elected Nago mayor


Susumu Inamine appears set to secure a second term in Sunday's mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa, which is being closely watched as a public verdict on the planned relocation of a U.S. Marine base to the city, according to Kyodo News projections.

Inamine, 68, who opposes the construction of a new U.S. military facility in the city's Henoko district, is projected to defeat Bunshin Suematsu, 65, a former Okinawa prefectural assembly member who backs the relocation plan.

His victory is certain to significantly affect the planned construction of the replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station as Inamine has said he will use his mayoral powers to block it.

Construction is likely to be delayed as the mayor has authority to approve the use of ports and roads, although Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved last month the central government's application for landfill work to build the facility.

The governor's decision marked a step forward for the long-stalled deal reached by Tokyo and Washington in 1996 to move the base. With Inamine's re-election, however, the prospects for the relocation plan appear more uncertain.

Nakaima and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had thrown their support behind Suematsu, who said in a stump speech Saturday that he "wants to create a new Nago" by making use of his connections with the central government to revitalize the local economy.

But Suematsu apparently failed to gain sufficient support among local voters.

In a barbed reference to the central government's support for Suematsu, Inamine said in a stump speech on the eve of the election, "The residents will be the ones to choose their Nago mayor." He was cheered and applauded by supporters when he said, "Nago residents are against Henoko."

Inamine had the support of the Japanese Communist Party, the People's Life Party, the Social Democratic Party and a local political party.

The central government is pushing to relocate the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan, also in Okinawa, to Nago's Henoko. But antibase sentiment runs deep in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan, with many local residents wanting the base moved outside the island prefecture.