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Sunday, December 21, 1997 Published at 16:38 GMT



World: Monitoring

Residents vote 'No' to heliport - Japanese report

Text of report by the Japanese news agency Kyodo

The residents of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, voted "no" in a municipal referendum on Sunday on the central government's plan to build a sea-based US military heliport east of the city, returns show.

Concerns about continued local US military base concentration and environmental disruption apparently prevailed over the central government's call on the residents to support the project, which was sweetened with a package of measures to boost the economy of Nago and other parts of Okinawa Island.

Opponents of the proposed 1,500-metre-long offshore heliport off the US Marine Corps' Camp Schwab in Nago outnumbered supporters in Sunday's vote.

The outcome is a setback for the central government, which had counted on the residents' support for the offshore facility in order to relocate the heliport operations of the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

It may affect the planned closure of the Futenma base, which Japan and the United States agreed last year to alleviate the concentration of US military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, southwestern Japan. The facility is to be closed in five to seven years on condition that its operations are relocated.

The result of the plebiscite, the first referendum in Japan on the construction of a particular US military facility, is not binding.

But Nago Mayor Tetsuya Higa has said he will take it into consideration in deciding whether to accept the heliport project, while Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has said the government will not go ahead with the project without local consent.

The mayor has also indicated he will first consult with Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota on the referendum result before making his decision, but the governor has said it is up to the city government to make a decision.

The Nago municipal assembly passed a bill in October to give a green light to the referendum, following demands in September by a citizens group against the heliport.

The referendum offered voters four choices - a simple denial or approval of the construction plan, and an approval/disapproval option tied to potential economic and environmental benefits or damage.

Voter turnout was 82.45 per cent of 38,176 eligible voters. Of these, 7,633 residents had cast absentee ballots by Saturday.

With campaigning allowed even on balloting day, both supporters and opponents of the heliport construction plan tried to sway voters in front of polling stations. Some minor skirmishes were reported.

The Nago vote followed a landmark Okinawa prefectural plebiscite in September last year, in which 89 per cent of those who voted called for a reduction in US military bases in the prefecture. Because the voter turnout was only 57.90 per cent, support for cuts in US military bases was expressed by 53 per cent of eligible voters.

Okinawa Prefecture accounts for 0.6 per cent of Japan's total land area, but hosts about 75 per cent of US military facilities in Japan in terms of area.

The United States has some 27,000 troops in Okinawa out of a total of 47,000 in Japan.

Source: Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, in English 1407 gmt 21 Dec 97

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
 





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