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Marine base on Okinawa to be moved

| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

For nearly two decades, fierce local opposition has stalled a plan to relocate a controversial U.S. Marine base on the island of Okinawa. But on Friday, Japan's hawkish prime minister persuaded Okinawa's governor to sign off on the construction of a replacement facility — a step that was hailed in Washington as a diplomatic breakthrough.

The concession by Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima is a significant achievement for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose government spent months lobbying for the move. To win Nakaima's support, Abe offered spending for infrastructure and development projects on Okinawa and pledged to help reduce the island's troop-hosting burden.

The struggle to find a replacement site for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma had become a source of friction between Japan and the United States, and in recent years some Obama administration officials had grown pessimistic about resolving the impasse.

Nakaima signed off on plans for landfill work that will allow the Futenma air station to be moved to a less populated area, but he said he would still prefer the base to be moved off the island entirely.

Roughly 2,000 protesters flocked to the Okinawan prefectural assembly building in the city of Naha, holding signs saying, “Leave office, governor” and “We won't allow the landfill.”

In the United States, officials greeted the agreement as a major step. The relocation of Futenma is a key element of a broader realignment of troops and resources in the Asia-Pacific region, where the administration is seeking to counterbalance China's military rise and anticipate threats from a volatile North Korea.

“Reaching this milestone is a clear demonstration to the region that the alliance is capable of handling complex, difficult problems in order to deal effectively with 21st century security challenges,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said.

Completion of the air station, which is expected to include two mile-plus-long runways, will take approximately a decade, American officials said.

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