Okinawans want U.S. soldiers out
September 8, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 p.m. EDT
TOKYO (CNN) -- By a nine to one margin, Okinawans approved a
measure to cut back the massive U.S. military presence on the
southern Japanese island. (map)
The vote is likely to complicate U.S. Japanese relations as
it bolsters demands to remove the American military presence
from one of its most strategic bases in Asia. There are
about 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan.
While the message of the non-binding referendum was clear,
its overall significance is not. Voter turnout by Japanese
standards was low, at about 60 percent of the 912,00 eligible
The Okinawa election commission said that 89.1 percent of
those voting had supported the military-cut initiative and
only 8.5 percent against it. The remaining ballots were
That could dampen the anti-American message, as voter turnout
is considered a key factor in how the national government
will handle the issue.
Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, who strongly favors curtailment of
the U.S. military presence there, was one of the first to
cast his ballot. He has said that the number of voters would
influence his base reduction strategy.
Advocates of shutting down the U.S. bases had hoped for a 70
percent turnout, but Ota was still euphoric over the lopsided
victory, and delivered a tough warning to Tokyo and
The results, said Ota, should be clear to "those in the U.S.
Congress who still feel like they own Okinawa."
On the national level, the referendum has serious
implications for Japanese politics. Prime Minister Ryutaro
Hashimoto is in the awkward position of having to cope with
three divergent parties on the Okinawa issue: His own
coalition government, the Okinawans and the United States.
The U.S. seeks to maintain a military presence in Asia,
particularly as a counterweight to the expansion of Chinese
influence in the Far East.
The national Japanese government has supported the U.S.
policy. But Okinawans have resisted the presence of American
Armed Forces, with opposition galvanized by the rape last
September of a 12 year old girl by three U.S servicemen.
The island's bloody history is also a factor. The Okinawa
islands were captured by U.S. troops in the closing months of
World War II after brutal fighting and heavy casualties on
both sides. They remained under American control until 1972.
Hashimoto will meet with Ota Tuesday to discuss the future of
the American military on the island.
Currently, the U.S. and Japan are hammering out the details
of an agreement made in April, calling for a 20 percent cut
in military facilities on Okinawa. And while the U.S. kept a
low profile during the recent elections, the results will
likely influence future negotiations on base reductions.
CNN correspondent May Lee in Tokyo and Reuters contributed to this report.
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