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New Japanese mayor opposes U.S. base

By Kyung Lah, CNN
  • Newly-elected mayor opposes plans for U.S. Marine base in Nago, Okinawa
  • U.S.-Japanese relations strained by uncertainty over U.S. military bases
  • Both countries aiming to solve base issue by May, official says

Tokyo, Japan (CNN) -- A Japanese city elected a mayor Sunday who opposes plans to host an American base, complicating the nation's commitment to work with the United States.

Residents of Nago, Okinawa, voted in Mayor Susumu Inamine, a vocal opponent of relocating the U.S. Marine Corp's Futenma base to Nago.

Voters ousted the incumbent who was willing to support a possible move of the military base to Nago. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government, which stormed into power on a pledge to give voters a stronger voice, moved carefully in congratulating the new mayor.

"The result of the election is one of the manifestations of the will of the Nago citizens. We have been saying that the government is looking at the issue from a 'zero-base' and will responsibly reach a conclusion by the end of May," said the prime minister, who during his campaign advocated moving the facility out of Okinawa or out of Japan altogether.

But the chief Cabinet secretary was more blunt, saying the election of one mayor has little bearing on where the base will be moved.

"The election of the mayor was one of the manifestations of the popular will," said Hirofumi Hirano, the Cabinet secretary. "But when the committee is deciding the venue of the relocation, there's no reason to take the election result into consideration."

Nago is one city where a U.S. Marine base may move. A panel of representatives from both countries is aiming to solve the base relocation issue by May.

The Futenma relocation is part of a 2006 agreement between the two countries to reconfigure U.S. forces in Japan. Japan's delay in moving the base has strained the 50 year alliance between the two nations.

U.S. Secretary Robert Gates and the White House have publicly asked Japan to move forward on the base relocation, which is tied to moving 8,000 U.S. troops to Guam. Hatoyama has said the plan needs to be reconsidered as opposition from Okinawa residents grows.

Nago's mayor-elect wasted no time in mounting pressure on the prime minister and calling for a city resolution against the base move.

"There should be no option to relocate the base in Okinawa," he said. "The election result clearly shows that to the central government."