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Controversial US Heliport Project Boosted by Okinawan Election


A plan to construct a controversial U.S. military heliport on the Japanese island of Okinawa has received a boost from voters. They have re-elected a local mayor who backs the stalled project.

In a poll held Sunday, incumbent Tateo Kishimoto was re-elected to a four-year term as the mayor of the city of Nago.

He won after pledging support for Tokyo's plan to relocate a U.S. military base there from Futenma, a town in the center of the island. The plan has been delayed by political wrangling for the past few years.

Mr. Kishimoto said he wants to cooperate with the governor of Okinawa and the central government in implementing the construction plan.

While campaigning, he underscored his success in securing $740 million in economic assistance from Tokyo in exchange for the planned relocation.

While many Nago residents are concerned about how the base will affect the environment and the community, they are also grateful for the new economic opportunities it is likely to create.

Okinawa has less than one-percent of Japan's total land mass, but it is home to 26,000 U.S. military personnel, more than half of the U.S. troops based in Japan. Many Okinawans, including Nago residents, have complained bitterly about their presence. A string of sexual attacks by U.S. servicemen against local women has further damaged the public's view.

Japan's new foreign minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, in a address to parliament Monday, said she will stay engaged with local officials on the issue.

She said she will try to reduce the burden shouldered by Okinawan people by establishing a new task force to study the bases.

While the mayoral election results may help break a deadlock over the relocation plan, the long-term fate of the project remains unclear. Local authorities insist that the U.S. military be allowed to use the base only 15 years, a time limit Washington rejects.

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