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US, Japan Military Deal Strengthens Ties, Draws Protests in Japan

Some local politicians in Japan are giving a thumbs-down to the agreement between Tokyo and Washington realigning U.S. military forces in the country. The central government will be facing a tough sell to local communities to get much of the plan implemented.

The immediate local reaction to the agreement across Japan on Sunday can be summarized in one phrase: "Not in my backyard."

Politicians representing communities near the U.S. Marine Corps' Iwakuni Air Station in southern Japan say they will not accept the relocation of the air wing of a U.S. aircraft carrier from Yokosuka Naval base, southwest of Tokyo, to their prefecture.

Yamaguchi Prefecture's governor, Sekinari Nii, says he had no warning the move was being considered.

Governor Nii also says the relocation is merely a way of shifting the problem of aircraft noise from one part of the country to another.

Despite the departure of the air wing from their community, Yokosuka residents are also outraged, because the USS Kitty Hawk, stationed there, but set for retirement, is to be replaced with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya calls that unacceptable.

The mayor says Yokosuka residents have a great fear of nuclear-powered vessels, and they will never accept such a ship being home-ported in their community.

Reaction has also been negative near the U.S. bases on the island of Okinawa. Although the agreement will halve the number of U.S. Marines there and move a heliport away from a southern city, residents think the moves are "too little, too late."

Opponents of U.S. military bases on Okinawa say all of the U.S. Marines should be moved off the island.

Strategically important Okinawa, which accounts for less than one percent of the country's land area, hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.

Japan's Defense Agency says it will send its facilities chief to Okinawa on Monday to explain the realignment agreement to local officials there.

The governor of Tokyo has also called it "regrettable" that the agreement does not allow commercial aircraft to use Yokota Air Base, and says he will reissue his demand for the early realization of dual use of the U.S. air base in western Tokyo.

The sweeping realignment plan, designed to more effectively utilize the American military in regional defense, as well as giving Japan a greater role in its security, was unveiled in Washington on Saturday.

Reaction to the plan has been quite different in the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, the new home of the 7,000 Marines to be moved from Okinawa over a six-year period.

"The people of Guam … remember when the Marines freed them. I would be surprised if people here didn't welcome the Marines," said Lee Webber, the publisher of the island's newspaper, the Pacific Daily News, and head of the Armed Services Committee of the Guam Chamber of Commerce.

Guam, under Japanese occupation during World War Two, hosts a U.S. Air Force and a Navy base. The military facilities are seen as a vital addition to a struggling island economy, which has faced the ups and downs of relying on Asian tourism. The addition of the Marines would increase by more than half the number of U.S. military personnel on Guam.