Tokyo reaches deal with Okinawa city over US base
TOKYO, Apr 7 (Reuters) The Japanese government today reached an agreement with a city on the southern island of Okinawa to relocate a US Marine base, removing a key obstacle in talks to reorganise American forces in the country.
The plan to realign the more than 50,000 US troops in Japan faces opposition from locals worried about noise, crime and damage to the environment associated with US bases, and Tokyo and Washington missed a March 31 deadline to wrap up the package.
The plan also includes measures to integrate Japanese and US forces more closely and is part of Washington's effort to transform its military globally to meet modern threats.
Defence Minister Fukushiro Nukaga hailed the deal reached in talks with Nago City Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro.
''The fact that Nago City has agreed to become the site of relocation is epoch-making,'' he told a news conference.
US and Japanese officials had agreed to close the Marines' Futenma air base in a crowded part of Okinawa and move it next to another base in Nago, but the mayor had opposed the plan due to concerns about aircraft flying over residential areas.
In today's deal, Nukaga and Shimabukuro agreed to change initial plans and build two runways forming a ''V'' shape off Nago's shores, which would allow US planes to avoid flying over houses.
''I am very grateful that our demands were met,'' Shimabukuro told the news conference alongside Nukaga.
Japanese media said Nukaga and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi were likely to meet Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine on Saturday. The governor has long opposed the initial government proposal.
Tokyo had been putting pressure on Okinawa to accept the relocation plan -- a must if 8,000 Marines are to be shifted off the island, mostly to the US territory of Guam.
Kyodo news agency said Tokyo and Washington would now aim to finalise the realignment package by the end of April.
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