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U.S. ambassador visits Okinawa amid base plans

Feb. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Caroline Kennedy, Hirokazu Nakaima
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, left, talks with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima at Okinawa Prefectural Government on Feb. 12 in Naha, Okinawa . Kennedy has made her first visit to the southernmost island of Okinawa, hoping to get support for a controversial plan to relocate a U.S. military base. (Kyodo News / via AP)
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NAHA, JAPAN — U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy has made her first visit to the southernmost island of Okinawa, hoping to get support for a contentious plan to relocate a U.S. military base.

She met Wednesday morning with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who expressed hopes they could work together on the base problem.

“There are various problems and tasks such as crimes, accidents as well as environmental issues and so on,” he told Kennedy.

“We would like to seek and urge your help so as to resolve the issue fundamentally and to reduce our burden of having US bases.”

Earlier, Kennedy offered flowers at the National War Dead Peace Mausoleum, which honors people who died during the closing of World War II.

Nakaima supports the relocation of Futenma air station to the Henoko district of Nago, but many others are opposed, including Nago’s mayor.

The plan is backed by the U.S. government. Half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are on Okinawa, which takes up less than 1 percent of Japanese territory.

Many Okinawans want Futenma closed and moved completely off the island.

Kennedy, who has drawn much attention as a celebrity since arriving last year, will visit a castle and a high school and attend an evening reception before departing Thursday.

More than 300 people rallied ahead of her arrival late Tuesday to protest the base relocation plans, waving signs that said “No base.”

“We as Okinawan people gave our answer many, many times that we don’t want maritime bases here,” said 47-year-old English teacher Kazue Nakamura-Huber.

The U.S. has proposed a broad plan to consolidate and reduce its troop presence in Okinawa, including a 1996 agreement to move the Marines Corps Futenma air station to Henoko.

Twelve-year-old Wakana Toguchi said she hoped to show Kennedy the relocation site.

“And I must tell her not to build the base,” she said.

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi, Yuri Kageyama and Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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