NAHA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Masahide Ota, a former governor of Okinawa who strived to resolve problems arising from the presence of U.S. military bases in the island prefecture, died in Naha on Monday morning of pneumonia and respiratory failure, his office said. He had turned 92 the same day.
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Ota was governor when large protests erupted over the rape of a 12-year-old local girl by U.S. service members in 1995, bringing national attention to the disproportionately large U.S. military presence in the southern prefecture and raising tensions between the prefectural and central governments.
He refused to give permission for the U.S. military to continue to use private land at a number of locations, prompting a legal battle between the central and prefectural governments that went to the Supreme Court.
Born in Okinawa, Ota was mobilized as a student in World War II and narrowly escaped death in the fierce Battle of Okinawa. He attended Tokyo's Waseda University and New York's Syracuse University.
Ota worked as a professor at the University of the Ryukyus before being elected governor in 1990 and served two terms before losing the 1998 election to Keiichi Inamine, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
He was a key figure in the opposition to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located within a crowded residential area, to a coastal zone within Okinawa Prefecture.
The Futenma issue remains a point of discord between the central and Okinawa governments today.
Ota was also active in anti-war causes. While governor, he oversaw the installation of the Cornerstone of Peace monument in the city of Itoman, on which all the names of the more than 200,000 people who died in the Battle of Okinawa are engraved, including those of U.S. soldiers.
A civic group in Okinawa said in April it had received word from the Norwegian Nobel Committee that Ota had been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
He also served one term as a House of Councillors lawmaker after being elected in 2001 from the proportional representation list of the center-left Social Democratic Party.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, described Ota as "an individual who energetically tackled Okinawa's base issues and (economic) development at a turbulent time."