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US airbase move in spotlight as Japan mayoral vote begins

Published on Jan 19, 2014 3:37 PM

TOKYO (AFP) - Voting began on Sunday in a mayoral election on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa which is being closely watched as a local verdict on the long-stalled and controversial relocation of a US military base.

The race to elect the mayor of Nago City - where the US Marines' Futenma Air Station is set to be relocated - pits incumbent and anti-base Susumu Inamine against Bunshin Suematsu, who supports the move.

Last month, more than 17 years after Washington and Tokyo agreed to move the base from a densely populated urban area on the island, the Okinawa government finally consented to a landfill that will enable new facilities to be built on the city's coast.

The issue had been deadlocked for years, with huge opposition to any new base among Okinawans fed up with playing host to an outsized share of the US military presence in Japan, and who want it moved off the island altogether.

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