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Japan Premier Acts to Renew Leases on U.S. Military Bases

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After waiting fruitlessly for two months for a recalcitrant governor to cooperate, Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Tuesday launched a legal process to compel landowners to renew leases on their property in Okinawa for use as American military bases.

The action appeared to ensure the continued legality of U.S. use of the land. But it did nothing to placate Gov. Masahide Ota, who has used the Sept. 4 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawa girl, in which three U.S. servicemen are charged, as justification for refusing authorization of the leases.

The three Americans were indicted and are being tried for the rape, which inflamed emotions throughout Japan and strengthened Okinawans’ demands for a reduction in U.S. bases that occupy 20% of their island.

After a seven-step legal process, the Socialist prime minister--who had opposed the U.S. bases until taking office last year as chief of a three-party coalition--will exercise his authority to replace Ota in signing orders authorizing the renewal of the leases. One of the leases expires in March, 1996, and 34 others expire in May, 1997.

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Ota told reporters that he intended to continue to insist “on the necessity to amalgamate and reduce the U.S. bases.”

He also said he will raise constitutional questions about the forced renewals--the fourth time that such action has been taken since the United States returned the prefecture, or state, of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. Okinawa was the site of the bloodiest battle in World War II.

The action came a day after the United States and Japan, in the first meeting of a “special action committee on Okinawa,” agreed to come up with a plan to reduce the size of the bases and to address other grievances of Okinawa residents within a year.


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