Japan's Mixed Signals Add to Uncertainty Over U.S. Installations





When President Barack Obama meets Japan's new prime minister in Tokyo on Friday, he will face a government that appears uncertain about how to resolve the major issue complicating ties between the two allies.

Members of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's administration have sent mixed signals in recent weeks over the Japanese government's stance on a plan to realign U.S. forces on the remote southern island of Okinawa. Mr. Hatoyama campaigned in part on reviewing the plan, which is unpopular in Okinawa because many there want U.S. forces off the island entirely.

A crowd estimated at 21,000 people protested Sunday at Ginowan City in Okinawa and called for U.S. forces to leave, according to the rally's organizers. About 2,000 staged a protest at a U.S. air base in nearby Kadena on Saturday...

... The U.S. military's presence has become increasingly unpopular within Okinawa. The rape of a 12-year-old girl by U.S. servicemen in 1995 prompted talks to close the Futenma base. The crash of a military helicopter in a college campus near Futenma in 2004 led to the 2006 agreement.

More recently, Japan's weakened economy has added to the bitterness. As a price for hosting military bases, Tokyo traditionally dished out generous public works spending to prop up Okinawa. But as Japan's overall economy began to falter in the 1990s and the government's debts piled up, Tokyo began to cut such spending.

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