NAHA--Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Nov. 27 announced he will hold a referendum on the relocation of a U.S. base on Feb. 24, a move intended to reassert local opposition to central government plans to move it within the prefecture.

Authorities in Tokyo are forging ahead with work to reclaim a coastal area of Henoko in the city of Nago to take over the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in the prefecture.

Tamaki not only wants the Futenma facility closed and the land returned to Okinawan sovereignty, he also fiercely opposes its relocation to Henoko.

He was elected governor in late September by defeating a central government-backed pro-relocation candidate by a wide margin.

Civic groups lobbied for a referendum by collecting more than 90,000 signatures to step up their objection to the project.

A proposed ordinance for a referendum on whether islanders support reclamation of Henoko was approved at an Oct. 26 session of the Okinawa prefectural assembly.

The central government resumed work to reclaim the coastal area of Henoko this month after it suspended the project in late August.

While the referendum is not legally binding, it would send a powerful message to the central government about deep-seated local opposition to the project.

The ordinance stipulates that the governor must honor the outcome when either for or against ballots reach a majority of votes cast and account for one-fourth of all eligible voters.

It also contains a clause stipulating that the governor must promptly notify the result to the prime minister and U.S. president.

The only other prefecture-wide referendum in Okinawa was held in 1996 to gauge the extent of opposition to the disproportionately high U.S. military presence there and calls for a review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which stipulates the jurisdiction and legal status of U.S. military forces in Japan.

Voter turnout on that occasion was 59.53 percent. The ratio of voters supporting a scaled back U.S. presence and a review was 89.09 percent.

At that time, Okinawa was home to about 75 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan. Now, its hosts about 70 percent.