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Japan’s Abe suffers setback with Okinawa election loss

A city mayor opposed to a plan to relocate a controversial U.S. airbase on Japan's Okinawa island was re-elected on Sunday, Kyodo news agency said, creating a political headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and threatening friction with Washington.

Delays in relocating the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base, a move first agreed between Tokyo and Washington in 1996, have long been an irritant in U.S.-Japan ties and Abe is keen to make progress on the project as he seeks tighter ties with the United States in the face of an assertive China.

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Abe's ties with Washington suffered after the United States expressed "disappointment" with his December 26 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, a pilgrimage that further strained relations with China and South Korea, which see the Tokyo shrine to Japan's war dead as a symbol of the country's past militarism.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo AbeGetty Images

Susumu Inamine – a staunch opponent of the relocation plan – was assured re-election as mayor of the Okinawa city of Nago, Kyodo said, citing projections shortly after the polls closed. An Okinawa newspaper also said Inamine's victory was certain.

Inamine has pledged to use his local authority block the relocation of the functions of Futenma from a populous part of central Okinawa to Nago's coastal Henoko area.

His main opponent had backed the plan and run with strong support from Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

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Last month, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved a landfill project to implement the plan.

Futenma has long been a lightening rod for discontent among Okinawa residents, many of whom associate the concentration of U.S. bases with accidents, pollution and crime such as the 1995 rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen.

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