Protest held in Okinawa sea against landfill for US base

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 6:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 6:49pm

Okinawa residents held a protest at sea on Monday against land reclamation work for a US military base in Japan’s southernmost island prefecture.

While the landfill work for moving US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is expected to start as early as August 17, many residents are against the plan as they want the base moved out of the prefecture.

Some 70 canoes and several small vessels were used by protesters as they evaded patrol vessels from the coastguard off the Henoko coastal area of Nago, where the base is expected to be moved from densely populated Ginowan.

More than half of the canoes entered the off-limits construction area and were subsequently evicted. Protesters held signs with messages such as “Don’t construct a base,” and “Don’t dump gravel.”

“I don’t want them to reclaim this beautiful sea,” said a man in his 40s from the village of Ogimi who was among the protesters.

A protest gathering of hundreds of people was also expected to take place on land in the afternoon, but it was cancelled because of bad weather.

Since the state government began building sea walls in April last year, protesters have clashed with security forces a number of times around the US Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab, which is next to the new site.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga said he will retract the approval given to the state’s landfill plan by his predecessor, a move that is certain to reignite the legal battle between the state and the local government over the project.

The two sides have already fought in court a number of times. In March, the local government lost a suit it filed against the state to stop the building work as Naha District Court rejected the suit, saying local governments cannot bring a suit seeking others to comply with ordinances or rules.

Onaga, who was elected on an anti-base platform, recently had pancreatic cancer surgery and has not said whether he will run in the November gubernatorial election.

The state government initially planned to begin the land reclamation in July, but the decision to protect an endangered species of coral inhabiting the area has delayed the start.

Okinawa hosts most of the US military facilities in Japan, a situation that many locals say puts an unfair burden on the prefecture.

The state insists the relocation of the Futenma base to the Henoko area is the only solution for removing the dangers it poses without undermining the perceived deterrence provided by American troops under the Japan-US alliance.