Majority rejects US base move in Okinawa referendum: exit polls

Okinawa residents go to the polls Sunday in a closely watched referendum on the controversial relocation of a US military base to a remote part of the island. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2019

Majority rejects US base move in Okinawa referendum: exit polls

  • Polls opened early on Sunday morning, with about 1.15 million Okinawans eligible to vote
  • Japan’s military alliance with the United States is seen as a key partnership

OKINAWA, Japan: Voters have rejected a controversial US base move in Japan’s Okinawa, exit polls showed after a non-binding referendum on Sunday, local media said.

It was not immediately clear by what margin voters had cast ballots opposing the relocation of the Futenma base from a densely-populated area to a more remote coastal region elsewhere on the southern Japanese island.

But local media including public broadcaster NHK and the Kyodo news agency said a majority of voters were in opposition to the move, which is backed by the Japanese and US governments.

Turnout in the referendum was also not immediately clear, with official figures not expected for several hours after polls closed at 8:00 P.M. local time (1100GMT).

Okinawa’s governor is required to “respect” the vote’s outcome if at least a quarter of eligible voters — around 290,000 votes — vote for any one option.

The referendum was initially planned as a yes-no vote on the relocation plan, but a “neither” option was added after some regions opposed to the relocation threatened to boycott the poll.

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.

Residents opposed to the relocation want to see the base moved elsewhere in Japan, arguing that the responsibility for hosting US troops should be spread more evenly across the country.

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.