NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. - A rally attended by thousands of Okinawa residents on Saturday urged the Japanese and U.S. governments to scrap a plan to relocate a controversial U.S. air base within the prefecture.
In the wake of last months local referendum that showed a majority of the island prefecture’s residents oppose the transfer plan, some 10,000 people gathered at a park in the prefectural capital of Naha, according to the organizer of the rally.
The protesters adopted a resolution demanding the two governments abolish the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less densely populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago.
Many local residents have long been frustrated with noise pollution, accidents and crimes resulting from the heavy concentration of U.S. military bases in Okinawa and want the Futenma base to be moved outside of the prefecture.
In the prefectural referendum on Feb. 24, some 72 percent of the total voters rejected the relocation plan. But as it was nonbinding, the Japanese government has continued to push ahead with work to build a replacement facility for the air base in the prefecture.
The resolution blasted the stance of the central government, saying, “Forcing through (the relocation work) by ignoring public opinion is utterly intolerable and shameful in a democratic country.”
Many participants in the rally also criticized the Abe administration for ignoring the referendum result.
“Despite the will of people shown in the vote, the construction work is continuing,” said Masato Taira, 51, a local government worker from the city of Okinawa. “We’ll never give up and will continue to show our opposition.”
“The state never listens to our voices,” said Yukie Uehara, a 41-year-old self-employed worker from the city of Itoman, who condemned the central government for disrespecting democracy.
“In order to prevent the base work from progressing further, we want people in other parts of the country to consider the base issue as their own problem,” said Uehara, who participated in the rally together with her two daughters.
On Saturday, a crowd of over 1,000 people also rallied in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo to oppose the relocation plan.
“It is an issue not just for Okinawa but for Japan as a whole,” said Jinshiro Motoyama, a civic group leader.
The central government has said the relocation plan is the “only solution” for eliminating the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. security alliance.