US sacks Japan desk head over Okinawa slurs

Last Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 12:41

Tokyo: The US State Department has removed the head of its Japan desk, who triggered outrage by reportedly calling the people of Okinawa "lazy", the US embassy in Tokyo said on Thursday.

The diplomat, Kevin Maher, also reportedly called the islanders "masters of manipulation and extortion" as they seek compensation for hosting a number of US military bases that have long angered many residents.

Washington`s top diplomat for Asia, Kurt Campbell, informed Japan`s new Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto that Maher had been replaced with Rust Deming, the US embassy said in a statement.

Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, "conveyed his deep regrets about statements attributed to Mr Maher in recent news reports," said the US embassy in an e-mailed statement.

After apologising to Japan the previous day, Campbell "reiterated that these reported statements in no way reflect US government policy or the utmost respect the United States has for the Okinawan people."

Maher`s remarks during an off-the-record speech in Washington in December provoked ire throughout Japan after they were published by Japanese media, which cited notes provided by students who attended the talk.

The reported remarks have caused a storm, particularly among residents of Okinawa, which reluctantly hosts more than half of the 47,000 US troops stationed in the country.

The heavy US military presence, with it accompanying aircraft noise, the risk of accidents and occasional crime has long troubled Okinawans, many of whom oppose a planned relocation within the island of a US Marine airbase.

The base question caused friction between long-time allies Washington and Tokyo after the present centre-left government took power in Japan in 2009.

Both sides have since agreed to stick with the original base relocation plan despite continued opposition to the move from locals.

The US embassy statement described Deming as "a long-time diplomat, former deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Tokyo and a strong friend of Japan".

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 12:41

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