Okinawa assembly members who want to see a U.S. military base removed from the southern Japanese island won a majority in the prefectural assembly election, emboldening the anti-U.S. base movement.
The result announced on Monday means Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga will likely redouble his efforts to move the Futenma airbase off the island altogether, setting the stage for a prolonged fight with the central government.
Sunday’s vote on the island, host to the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, came after a series of crimes and other incidents involving U.S. soldiers and base workers reignited resentment against the U.S. presence.
Of 48 seats up for grabs, candidates supporting Onaga, who is at loggerheads with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government over plans to relocate the base within Okinawa, won 27 seats, up from 23 seats before the vote, public broadcaster NHK said.
The United States and Japan agreed in 1996 to close the U.S. Marines’ Futenma airbase, which is in an urban area of Okinawa, and move its facilities elsewhere on the island, but the plan stalled due to opposition from residents worried about noise, pollution and crime.
That decision followed the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by U.S. military personnel which sparked huge anti-base demonstrations. Further stoking local anger, a 32-year-old American civilian working at a U.S. base was arrested last month in connection with the murder of a Japanese woman.