UPDATES TO ADD CENTRAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
TOKYO (AA) - Candidates opposed to the planned relocation of a United States military base in Japan’s southern Okinawa have secured a majority in its prefectural assembly amid scandals involving those employed at U.S. installments.
Governor Takeshi Onaga, who had won the 2014 gubernatorial election with a pledge to oppose the relocation of the Futenma Air Station, told reporters Monday that the results from Sunday’s polls were “a big victory” showing that his stance had "won support".
"We will continue to address the issue in the current manner," Kyodo news agency quoted him saying.
Of the 48 seats in the prefectural assembly, 31 were won by candidates opposed to the relocation plan, among them 27 who back Onaga.
Prior to the vote, only 23 seats were held by the bloc backing the governor, including members of the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.
The people of Okinawa have long felt oppressed by hosting around two-thirds of the entire U.S. military establishment in Japan since the end of World War II.
Criticism of the U.S. presence has mounted in recent weeks following the arrests of a number of people employed at the country’s bases in the prefecture.
On Sunday, an American navy officer suspected of drunk driving and injuring two people in a collision was arrested.
The incident came after a U.S. contractor reportedly admitted last month to raping and murdering a Japanese woman.
The central government, however, insisted Monday that the results of the Okinawa assembly election would not impact their plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station in densely populated Ginowan city to Nago city, according to Kyodo.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Monday that the government remains committed to the plan "when taking into account the need to maintain the deterrent capacity of the Japan-U.S. alliance and eliminate the hazards of the Futenma site."
Okinawa and Tokyo have been engaged in a long-running legal feud over the transfer process, with Onaga seeking to have the base moved out of the prefecture entirely.
In March, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that both sides had dropped lawsuits filed against each other and opted to discuss a court-mediated settlement plan, under which the central government suspended landfill work in Henoko.
After the arrest of the U.S. sailor, 21-year-old Aimee Mejia, the U.S. military in Japan vowed Sunday to take measures to improve standards of conduct among servicemen.
It released a statement saying the commander of the U.S. military in Japan, Lt. Gen. John Dolan, and the commanders of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines agreed during an emergency meeting "to review measures to reinforce standards of conduct and maintain good order and discipline".
Last month, the U.S. military in Okinawa had responded to the arrest of contractor Kenneth Franklin Shinzato
at the base in Kadena town on suspicion of dumping the woman’s body by imposing a midnight curfew and an alcohol ban off base for around a month.