TOKYO - The governor of Japan's Okinawa prefecture said on Monday he will move to halt work on a contentious US air base, a headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a crucial time in his push to get widely opposed security bills passed.
The central government wants to move the US Marines' Futenma base to another location on the southern island, but many Okinawa residents who resent US military installations want to get rid of it altogether.
Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga, who won election last year on his anti-base stand and has accused Abe of looking down on the island, said his government will revoke a permit for key landfill work that is needed to relocate the base.
"This is a first step towards keeping this from being built," Onaga told a news conference, days after the government resumed reclamation work after a month's suspension for talks that left the two sides still far apart.
It will take about a month to revoke the permit, which was issued by Onaga's predecessor, and this action could prompt a legal response from the government, NHK national television said.
The base issue has sparked widespread sympathy around Japan and could further weaken support for Abe, who aims to pass security bills that would let Japan's military fight overseas for the first time since World War Two before the current session of parliament ends on Sep 27.
The government forced the bills through the lower house of parliament in July despite massive protests.
More than half of people polled on the issue oppose the bills, which would allow Japan's armed forces to defend an ally under attack, a drastic shift in Japan's post-war security policy.
Abe told a parliamentary committee that there is no change in the government's stance on the base. "We want to move Futenma and ease the worries of residents there as soon as possible," he said.