Japan's foreign minister visits Okinawa to cool opposition to U.S. troop realignment

Japan's foreign minister visited Okinawa on Friday to convince a local mayor and governor to drop their vocal opposition to a plan to close a U.S. air station on the southern island and move it to a nearby base.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso was to meet with Gov. Keiichi Inamine and Tateo Kishimoto, mayor of Nago, where the Futenma Air Station is expected to be moved to under a plan to realign U.S. forces based in Japan.

The plan also calls for the transfer of 7,000 Marines from Okinawa over six years to the U.S. territory Guam and shift some of the operations to other cities on Japan's main islands.

The plan has drawn strong criticism in Okinawa and other parts of the country from people who want the troops out of Japan.

Okinawa hosts about half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan, and residents have long protested the crowding, noise and crime associated with the bases.

The troop realignment is part of an interim pact on U.S. forces in Japan that Tokyo and Washington agreed to last month. The two sides plan to decide a relocation schedule by March 2006.

Aso visited the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab in Nago, and was to visit Kadena Air Base, a foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity in line with ministry policy, reported AP. P.T.

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