UPDATE 2-Okinawans angry over US base plan, PM at risk

* PM apologises for plan to relocate U.S. base on Okinawa

* Okinawans angry, coalition partner opposes plan

* Formal U.S.-Japan agreement expected on Friday – media
(Recasts, adds comments)

By Yoko Nishikawa

TOKYO, May 23 (BestGrowthStock) – Japanese Prime Minister Yukio
Hatoyama on Sunday abandoned a pledge to move a U.S. air base
off Okinawa, fanning local anger, upsetting a coalition partner
and risking another blow to his ratings ahead of a mid-year
election.

Hatoyama said he had concluded the base should be shifted
to the Henoko area of the northern Okinawa city of Nago —
largely in line with a 2006 U.S-Japan agreement. But the
governor of Okinawa quickly said it would be tough to accept
such a plan.

Voter perception that Hatoyama has mishandled the Futenma
air base row has eroded government support, threatening the
ruling Democratic Party’s chances in the upper house election,
which it must win to avoid policy deadlock.

Hatoyama has set himself an end-May deadline to resolve the
problem, which has frayed ties with Tokyo’s key security ally
Washington just as the two countries confront security
challenges such as an unpredictable North Korea and a rising
China.

“Concerns and anger that people in Okinawa have are
understandable,” Hatoyama told Okinawa Governor Hirokazu
Nakaima in a meeting at the Okinawa prefecture office, as a
crowd of protesters stood outside carrying signs opposing the
plan and shouting “Go home”.

“But as shown in recent developments in the Korean
peninsula, uncertainty remains over security in East Asia and
we cannot let the deterrence of U.S. military forces in Japan
decline.

“It is a heart-rending decision for me,” Hatoyama added and
apologised to the people of Okinawa, for failing to succeed in
shifting the base off the island.
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Graphic on Japan voter support: http://r.reuters.com/myv63g
Graphic on voting intentions:
http://link.reuters.com/jev83j
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In a brief visit to Japan on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton said Pyongyang’s sinking of a South Korean ship
had underscored the importance of the alliance. [ID:nTOE64K071]

But the governor of Okinawa, host to about half the U.S.
forces in Japan, expressed disappointment.

“The idea of moving the base to Henoko is quite regrettable
and (accepting it) is extremely tough,” Nakaima told Hatoyama
in the meeting, aired live on nationwide TV.

LOCAL ANGER

In the campaign that swept his party to power last year,
Hatoyama had raised hopes the U.S. Marine base could be moved
off Okinawa, but Washington has sought to stick to the 2006
deal to move the facility to Nago. [ID:nTOE64M00S]

Hatoyama later shifted gears, saying some Marines had to
stay to deter threats, a move that outraged many Okinawans and
upset a small ruling party, the Social Democrats.

“It is the worst possible case. He has made enemies of the
governor of Okinawa, the Democrats in Okinawa, his coalition
partner and the opposition, and put ties with America first,”
said independent political analyst Hirotaka Futatsuki.

“But once he promises this to the United States, even if
Okinawa objects, ultimately, they will have to move it to
Henoko.”

In a separate meeting, Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine,
elected in January on an anti-base platform, told Hatoyama that
the plan was “absolutely unacceptable”.

“I cannot help feeling angry as this betrays feelings of
people in Nago and Okinawa, who have called for the base to be
moved out of the prefecture,” Inamine told Hatoyama.

Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, told
reporters she opposed Hatoyama’s plan. But she also said no
decision has been made on whether her party would leave the
coalition government over the issue, Kyodo news agency
reported.

The tiny Social Democratic Party’s votes are no longer
needed to pass bills smoothly in parliament, but a rift in the
coalition ahead of the upper house election would be ill-timed.

Japanese media said a formal agreement with the United
States on the plan would be announced on Friday, when Hatoyama
is expected to give a news conference. Japanese Defence
Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said he would visit Washington on
Monday to further discuss the plan with his counterpart, Robert
Gates.

Details of the new deal with Washington, including the
exact location of a new runway and the construction method, are
to be worked out before U.S. President Barack Obama visits
Japan in November for an Asia-Pacific leaders summit, Japanese
media said.

Hatoyama said the government would continue to negotiate
with the United States to lessen the burden on Okinawa, where
residents have long resented bearing what they feel is an
unfair burden for maintaining the security alliance.

“I don’t consider this as the end.”

Stock Market News
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Jeremy
Laurence)

UPDATE 2-Okinawans angry over US base plan, PM at risk