TOKYO, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- The majority of voters in a referendum on Sunday in Japan's Okinawa rejected the central government's plans to relocate a controversial U.S. airbase within Japan's southernmost prefecture, local media reported Monday after final tallies were counted.
More than 70 percent of the voters rejected the government's plans to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the Ginowan region to the coastal Henoko area also on the island, giving the Okinawa government a stronger foothold in its campaign to block the controversial move.
In the referendum where voters were given the choice to vote "yes," "no," or "neither," as to whether they wanted to see the U.S. base relocated on their island, the number of "no" votes came in at 72.2 percent of the total.
Those supporting the move stood at some 19.1 percent, and those who voted "neither" stood at 8.8 percent as to whether they agreed with the central government's land reclamation work in the coastal region, according to the prefectural authorities' figures.
Exit polls also showed that not only do Okinawans not want to see any more military bases on the island, they also want the central government to respect the outcome of the prefecture-wide referendum and abandon its plans to relocate the base.
Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki who denounces the central government's plans to relocate the base, said he hoped the referendum, although not legally binding, provided local citizens with the opportunity to voice their opposition to the move.
"This is the first time that opposition specifically to the plan was clearly shown, so it bears significant meaning. I fully take the people's resolution, and strongly call on the central government to stop the relocation work," Tamaki was quoted by local media as saying, after the result of the referendum was announced.
An ordinance on the referendum maintains that Tamaki must notify Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump following the outcome of the referendum.
Abe, despite the outcome, said Monday the central government will forge ahead with its decades-old plan to relocate the Futenma base, which will likely trigger a vociferous backlash from the people of Okinawa who have stated they want the Abe-led government to respect their collective stance, as decided by the referendum.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, yet the tiny sub-tropical island accounts for just a small fraction of Japan's total landmass.
There have been numerous cases of the local citizens being victims of U.S. base-linked workers' criminal activities.
These have spanned brutal rape and murder cases, instances of military personnel driving under the influence of alcohol, and cases of assault and disorderly behavior.
Okinawans have also suffered from a steady flow of accidents and mishaps involving U.S. military aircraft, as well as environmental and noise pollution.
In addition, the new location for the base has a pristine and extremely delicate coastal ecosystem unique to Okinawa, which includes highly endangered species of marine life, and the locals and international environmentalists desperately want to protect the region.
Tamaki has said that the central government's persistent push to continue with the landfill work for the base's relocation is completely unacceptable and against the will of Okinawans who wish to see the base moved outside of Okinawa and Japan altogether, as anti-U.S. sentiment continues to rise on the island.
Japan's central government began pouring soil into the sea for the replacement facility in December last year, much to the anger of local Okinawan residents, who feel, to a large extent, they are still under post-World War II occupation by U.S. forces.