(Reuters) - A candidate backed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's party was soundly defeated in a key local election on Sunday, a blow to plans to relocate a controversial U.S. air base on Okinawa island, home to the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan.
Delays in relocating the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base have long been an irritant in U.S.-Japan relations. Abe is keen to make progress on the project as he seeks tighter security ties with Washington in the face of an assertive China.
Kyodo news agency said after the polls closed that its projections showed a former mayor, Takeshi Onaga, was certain to defeat incumbent Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.
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