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

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.


Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

Updated 15 August 2020

Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

  • Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio is still endemic
  • Since Jan., Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials on Saturday launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio as part of efforts aimed at eliminating the crippling disease amid a steady decline in fatalities and infections from the coronavirus, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s fragile health system.
The anti-polio campaign, which began amid tight security, aims to vaccinate as many as 34 million children across Pakistan, including former Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan, a government statement said.
Medical workers participating in the drive against polio were seen adhering to social distancing regulations as they wore face masks and gloves while going house-to-house to avoid a spike in coronavirus cases.
“I am hopeful that parents will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign,” said Faisal Sultan, an adviser to the prime minister on health issues.
According to Rana Safdar, who heads the government’s polio program, similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.
Earlier Saturday, Pakistan’s military said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, praised Islamabad’s success in the fight against coronavirus in a telephone call to the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. It said Gates also discussed the resumption of the drive against polio.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. The nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped Pakistan and other places worldwide fight the disease.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate the disease by 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But there was a surge in new cases the following year. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country, including the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them because they claim the anti-polio drive is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence. Attacks on polio teams increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011 in Pakistan.
Pakistan halted the drive against polio in March and resumed it last month amid a decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19.
On Saturday, Pakistan reported only 9 new deaths from the new virus in the past 24 hours, increasing the country’s total of COVID-19 deaths to 6,162. So far, Pakistan has reported 288,047 cases and officials say about 93% of the patients recovered since February, when the country reported its first confirmed case.