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Okinawa governor hopes to meet with President Obama during visit

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U.S. President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Merkel in the East Room of the White House in Washington

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga requested Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to set up a meeting between him and U.S. President Barack Obama in the wake of the arrest in the prefecture of an American base worker on suspicion of dumping the body of a local woman.

Arranging such a meeting, however, would be “difficult,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference following Onaga’s meeting with Abe in Tokyo, adding, “We think that issues related to security and diplomacy should be discussed between the central governments of countries involved.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Onaga said he also called for a “drastic review” of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, a bilateral accord defining the handling of U.S. military and other personnel in Japan.

Referring to Obama’s planned trip to Japan later this week, Onaga said, “As governor of Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, I would very much like to directly speak to President Obama so as to ensure the safety of prefectural residents’ lives and property, as well as of children and grandchildren in the future.”

“We can never tolerate such an incident. This is a crime simply because U.S. military bases exist (in Okinawa),” he said. “I lodge a strong protest against it.”

Last Thursday, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 32-year-old former U.S. Marine, was arrested for allegedly dumping the 20-year-old woman’s body and he has since admitted to killing her, according to investigative sources.

The sources quoted him as saying he also sexually assaulted the victim.

The incident is likely to increase the resentment in Okinawa over repeated crimes by U.S. military personnel stationed there and the large U.S. military presence in the island prefecture. It could also spark anti-American sentiment ahead of Obama’s trip to Japan, including a visit to Hiroshima.

In order to convey the U.S. government’s apology for the incident, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy is planning to visit Okinawa as early as this week for talks with Onaga, according to a Japanese government official.

Meeting on the sidelines of a two-day Group of Seven summit starting Thursday in Mie Prefecture, Abe will urge Obama to take “effective” measures to prevent the recurrence of incidents involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, according to Suga.

Abe “will strongly demand that the U.S. side take effective and convincing measures to prevent incidents and accidents involving U.S. servicemen and others,” he said.

“The prime minister said he felt indignation and offered sympathy to the bereaved family,” Suga told reporters. “Taking into account public sentiment, he will call for strict measures, I believe.”

Officials and experts are concerned that the incident could complicate talks between the central and local governments over the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma within Okinawa.

Onaga is demanding that the base be relocated outside Okinawa. But the central government argues moving Futenma from its crowded residential area in Ginowan to a less populated area in Nago’s Henoko coastal district is the “only solution” to remove the dangers posed by the base without undermining the Japan-U.S. alliance in an increasingly tense security environment in East Asia.

==Kyodo

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