Japan's Hatoyama, weakened by Okinawa base decision, sacks deputy
North Korea tensions are reportedly behind Japan Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's unpopular decision to keep the US base on Okinawa. But the move will damage his party's prospects in the July election.
Japan's coalition government was thrown into turmoil Friday after the prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, sacked a cabinet minister because of sharp differences over the fate of a controversial US airbase on the southern island of Okinawa.Skip to next paragraph
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The dismissal of Mizuho Fukushima, the consumer affairs minister, fueled speculation that her tiny left-of-center Social Democrats would flee the three-way coalition with Hatoyama’s Democratic party and the People’s New party after just eight months in office. While the government would still retain its majority in both houses of parliament, a Social Democrat defection would further damage Mr. Hatoyama’s already bleak prospects in upper house elections in July.
Ms. Fukushima’s departure came hours after Japan and the US agreed to retain a 2006 agreement to move Futenma marine base, located in the crowded city of Ginowan, to an offshore site in Henoko on Okinawa’s sparsely populated north coast. The agreement was reached during a telephone conversation Thursday between Hatoyama and President Barack Obama,
"Recent developments in the security environment of Northeast Asia reaffirmed the significance of the Alliance," the joint statement read.
Korea tensions affect domestic politics
"I am painfully aware of the feeling of the people of Okinawa that the present problem of the bases represents unfair discrimination against them,” he said. "At the same time, the presence of US bases is essential for Japan's security.”
Fukushima had consistently opposed the move and publicly pressured Hatoyama to honor a pledge he made during last year’s general election campaign to move the base off the island altogether.
But he failed to persuade other potential sites to host the base, angering Okinawan residents and local politicians who have described his U-turn as a "betrayal."
Prime Minister 'lacked clear policy'
Analysts say the decision to accept the relocation on US terms would strengthen opposition claims that Hatoyama was no longer fit to lead the country.