Antinuclear activists camping out at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry refused to take down their tents Friday despite an order to do so by 5 p.m.
Hundreds of people meanwhile came to see the three tents around the deadline, apparently to show their support for the protesters.
About 10 of the activists have regularly stayed in the tents since September.
METI on Wednesday handed the protesters an order to remove their tents by 5 p.m. Friday because they “continued to use fires even though we repeatedly told them not to,” official Hideyuki Maekawa said.
But shortly after 5 p.m., Maekawa told The Japan Times the ministry was not taking any action against the protesters and instead hopes they “will leave voluntarily.”
The protesters meanwhile argued they have the right to stay there to continue their demonstration calling for termination of all nuclear power plant operations.
“We feel we have the right to stay here. We understand it is unlawful to stay on somebody’s premises without authorization. But this space is a very public place, which gives us right to be here,” one of their leaders, restaurant owner Taro Fuchigami, told The Japan Times.
About 10 people have constantly been near the tents to hand out leaflets and talk to pedestrians during daytime and five to eight have been staying overnight, Fuchigami said.
The total number of participants over the past five months is unknown.
The protesters began camping out at the corner of the ministry Sept. 11. They applied for permission Sept. 13 to pitch their tents there, but METI denied the request Sept. 29, both Maekawa and Fuchigami said.
“We turned down their application because their activities (of opposing nuclear plants) undermines the neutrality of the government,” Maekawa said.
The tents were adorned with numerous posters urging the abolishment of nuclear plants, opposing the restart of halted reactors, calling for the evacuation of most parts of Fukushima Prefecture and other messages.
Maekawa said the protesters have been technically breaking the law since Sept. 29, but METI effectively allowed them to stay because “people can have different opinions.”
However, the ministry changed its attitude because the protesters kept using open flames to cook and keep warm despite METI’s admonishments.
On Dec. 30, a small fire was caused by a portable power generator, which Fuchigami said was put out in less than a minute.
The Fire Service Law stipulates a building owner must have a fire prevention plan.
Maekawa said METI’s plan has no provisions regarding fires used by protesters on the premises.