Okinawa governor approves plan to relocate US Marines Futenama air base

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Some 50 people gathered in front of the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on October 17, 2012, to protest an alleged rape of a local woman by two US servicemen in Okinawa.

Okinawa's Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved a plan Friday to relocate a US air base to a new site on the Japanese island, 17 years after the move was first agreed upon by the US and Japan.

The United States wants to move the US Marines Futenma air base in the town of Ginowan to a less populated location on Okinawa, near the town of Nago.

Nakaima approved a landfill proposal that will allow new military facilities to be built there.

The US welcomed the deal, which would allow for a redeployment of US troops and help move forward the Obama administration's so called "pivot" to East Asia.

"Reaching this milestone is a clear demonstration to the region that the alliance is capable of handling complex, difficult problems in order to deal effectively with 21st century security challenges," US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a statement.

Despite allowing for a more convenient base, the plan is part of a US effort to cut back the US military presence in the region.

The number of Marines on the island is set to decline from 18,000 to about 10,000 in the coming years, many of which will be redeployed to Guam.

"This decision comes after many years of sustained effort between the United States and Japan, and it is the most significant milestone achieved in these realignment efforts so far," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday.

"The realignment effort is absolutely critical to the United States' ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and our ability to maintain a geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture in the region."

It is still unclear whether the base will actually move, since Okinawa residents oppose having the US base on the island. Some 2,000 people protested the relocation announcement outside the Okinawa government building Friday.

Even though he’s given the go-ahead for the relocation, Gov. Nakaima said he would continue to argue that the Futenma air base should be moved outside Okinawa.

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