Tokyo sticks to plan to build U.S. heliport in Okinawa

Japan will make no major changes to its plan to build a U.S. military heliport in Okinawa, despite opposition from local government officials, the foreign minister announced Tuesday.

The plan to close a Marine Corps air station and construct a runway on another U.S. base stirred protests by critics who oppose any further military building on the southern island.

The project to build the heliport was agreed to last week by Japan and the United States, and Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo would stick to its plan.

"Obviously the presence of the base there is important in many ways," he told. "In principle, we reached and signed an agreement. I don't think that the basic line we agreed to will change."

The comment came a day after Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine told the central government that the plan was unacceptable.

Japan and the United States reached a broad agreement on strengthening military cooperation on Saturday, reducing the number of U.S. Marines in Okinawa and giving Tokyo greater responsibility for security in the Pacific.

In the runup to that accord, the two sides agreed to close down the Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma, and move its functions to another base on Okinawa, Camp Schwab.

The plan, however, requires the construction of a new runway at Schwab, partially on fresh landfill. Opponents say the building will damage the environment.

The central government - which is sensitive to the concerns of Okinawans following a series of high-profile accidents and crimes linked to U.S. forces based on the island - has the final say on the proposed move.

Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island state about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, shoulders nearly half of about 50,000 U.S. servicemen in Japan, the AP reports.


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