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Victors in Japan line up a coalition

By Eric Talmadge
Associated Press / September 10, 2009

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TOKYO - Japan’s next ruling party agreed yesterday to form a coalition with two smaller parties, one of which wants to move a US Marine base off of Okinawa and review an agreement that stations 50,000 American forces in the country.

The Democratic Party of Japan swept to victory in recent elections for Parliament’s powerful lower house but needed help to ensure it could pass legislation smoothly in the upper house. The coalition agreement paves the way for the Democrats’ chief, Yukio Hatoyama, to put together a new Cabinet.

Hatoyama’s party will align with the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party to replace the outgoing Liberal Democrats, a pro-business and staunchly pro-US party that had governed the country for more than 50 years.

A likely first test of Japan’s new path will be the fate of a US airfield on the southern island of Okinawa, home to about 18,000 US Marines.

As part of a broad realignment of US troops in Asia, Washington and the outgoing Liberal Democrats agreed years ago to close the airfield in the crowded city of Futenma and find a new location for it elsewhere on the island. That plan would also move 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to the US territory of Guam by 2014. The rest would remain.

Washington says the deal cannot be renegotiated, but while in the opposition, the Democratic Party had criticized the plan, saying the base should be built somewhere else in Japan and balking at the cost of transferring the Marines to Guam.