Japan’s Okinawa to hold referendum on US base move

Noise, accidents and crimes committed by military personnel and civilian base employees have long irritated local Okinawa residents. (AFP)
Updated 26 October 2018
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Japan’s Okinawa to hold referendum on US base move

  • While the referendum has no legal standing, a vote against the move is likely to pile fresh pressure on the central government
  • Noise, accidents and crimes committed by military personnel and civilian base employees have long irritated local residents

TOKYO: Japan’s Okinawa region voted Friday to hold a non-binding referendum on a deeply unpopular plan to relocate a US military base, in the latest twist to a long-running saga.
The decision, by local politicians, comes a month after residents elected a new governor who opposes plans to move the US Marines’ Futenma Air Station from an urban area to a sparsely populated part of the island.
While the referendum has no legal standing, a vote against the move is likely to pile fresh pressure on the central government, which backs the move as the best way to deal with anger in Okinawa about the base.
Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan’s total land area, but hosts more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.
Noise, accidents and crimes committed by military personnel and civilian base employees have long irritated local residents, as has the perceived refusal of other parts of the country to share Okinawa’s burden.
The plan backed by the government would move the base from its current densely populated location to a remote area, partly created by land reclamation.
Opponents do not want the base to remain where it is, but have nevertheless campaigned against the move because they believe it would entrench the US presence on the islands.
They say it should be put elsewhere in Japan, or even shuttered completely.
The construction of the new base “means pursuing national security at the expense of residents’ rights to regional autonomy,” assembly member Ichiro Miyagi said Friday.
Construction work at the new site has been suspended since August, after the Okinawa government retracted its approval for land reclamation.
New governor Denny Tamaki, who has vowed to continue fighting the new air base, will set a date for the referendum, with local media saying it would likely be held before next spring.
Okinawa was the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island.
The archipelago’s location means it is of huge strategic importance for US forward positioning in Asia.


Portugal says Iranian visas suspended for consulate upgrade

Updated 7 min 30 sec ago
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Portugal says Iranian visas suspended for consulate upgrade

  • The suspension is temporary
  • Portuguese FM earlier said they suspended visas for unspecified security reasons

LISBON: Portugal stopped issuing entry visas for Iranian nationals while it upgrades security at its consulate in Tehran, not because of political issues or any security threats, the Portuguese foreign ministry said.

The suspension is temporary and alternatives will be put in place to issue travel documents to those who need them, the ministry said in a statement released late on Tuesday.

The move “does not result from an assessment of the general security conditions in Iran or any other institutional or political aspect,” the ministry said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told a parliamentary committee that the issuance of visas had been suspended for unspecified security reasons.

Joao Goncalves Pereira, a lawmaker from the conservative CDS-PP party who had asked the minister about the suspension during the committee hearings, said that according to his information visas for Iranians had been suspended for two or three weeks.

The Iran embassy in Lisbon said a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry would issue a statement soon.