Forty-three per cent of Okinawans want the US military to withdraw from the southern Japanese island, a survey showed Friday, as public support sinks for the option of just downsizing the bases there amid recent alleged assaults.
Just 27 per cent would now be satisfied with a reduction in US troops, according to a poll by local newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Television, two weeks after the arrest of a former US marine in connection with the death of a 20-year-old Okinawa woman.
Back in 2007, a reduction in troop numbers was by supported by 70 per cent of locals, with just 15 per cent calling for the troops' removal, by the Okinawa Times newspaper reported at the time.
“Public opinion has shifted towards the complete withdrawal of the US military” on the island, said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based political analyst, saying the latest assault triggered some of the change.
The 32-year-old suspect, now an employee at US Kadena Air Base, was arrested last month on suspicion of dumping a woman's body found in the town of Uruma. He admitted to strangling her, Ryukyu Shimpo reported.
US President Barack Obama expressed his “sincerest condolences and deepest regrets” for the incident last week during a trip to Japan for a G7 summit.
“The United States will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation and ensure that justice is done under the Japanese legal system,” he said.
Around half of the 53,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan are on Okinawa, 1,600 kilometres south-west of Tokyo, which is less than 1 per cent of the country’s total land mass.
Most of those are at US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in a residential area. The US and Japan agreed in 1996 to close it after a 12-year-old schoolgirl was raped by three US servicemen.
But the building of a new facility on the island has stalled amid resistance from conservationists, and the increasing minority of residents who want the US troops removed from the island rather than relocated.
During Obama's visit, around 4,000 protesters urged Washington and Tokyo to abandon the new base, planned near Nago city in northern Okinawa.