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Japan

Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga, who opposed relocation of US military base, dies aged 67

The central government believes the base is necessary for Japan to maintain the perceived deterrence provided by the US, while many in Okinawa regard it as an unfair burden

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 10:32pm

Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga, who fiercely confronted the central government over the relocation of a US base within the island prefecture, died on Wednesday, according to people close to him.

Okinawa Prefecture, led by 67-year-old Onaga, has been confronting the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the transfer of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from densely populated Ginowan to the coastal area of Henoko in Nago.

Late last month, Onaga, who was recuperating after undergoing pancreatic cancer surgery, asked local officials to start procedures to retract his predecessor’s approval of landfill work for the base relocation in his latest attempt to block the construction work.

Both sides have already fought a number of times in court. The central government believes the base is necessary for Japan to maintain the perceived deterrence provided by the US, while many in Okinawa regard it as an unfair burden on the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of US forces.

The news of Onaga’s death came after deputy governor Kiichiro Jahana said earlier on Wednesday the governor had fallen into a “state of clouded consciousness”.

Onaga was performing official duties while undergoing medical treatment after a tumour was found in his pancreas in April. He had not appeared in public recently.

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Onaga became governor in November 2014, defeating then-incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima who was more supportive of the base relocation and approved the start of the reclamation work in December 2013.

Onaga also served 14 years as mayor of the prefectural capital Naha.

Under the election law, the gubernatorial election to choose the Onaga’s successor must be held within 50 days.

The local chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had recently asked Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima to run in the November 18 gubernatorial election.

While Sakima has said he will need time to make up his mind, he criticised Onaga for focusing too much on the US base issue and failing to make progress through negotiations.