Two elderly protesters have been hurt trying to block trucks from entering Camp Schwab in Okinawa Prefecture, near the construction site of a bitterly contested American base.
Fumiko Shimabukuro, 85, was knocked to the ground during a scuffle with members of the Okinawan Prefectural Police who had been escorting the trucks into the base on Thursday. She was treated for a mild concussion.
A second activist, Masato Nakamine, 63, said he was left black and blue after being dragged along by a truck on Friday and then manhandled by “seven or eight” police officers in riot gear.
“When my colleagues saw I was hurt they told me to go to the hospital and get medical treatment,” Nakamine said by phone. “But the police ignored us.”
Nakamine was taken to hospital by ambulance and treated for cuts, bruises and whiplash. He is now back outside Camp Schwab wearing a neck brace.
An Okinawa police official expressed regret that Shimabukuro was injured during the protest, adding that the police will do their best to ensure people’s safety.
The official also said that an unnamed person, understood to be Nakamine, was asked to move out of the way but persisted in lying down on the road. He then grabbed a truck’s mirror and was dragged along, the official said.
The protests by mainly elderly demonstrators have been a feature of the area for more than a decade, ever since Schwab, in the sleepy fishing village of Henoko, was first mooted as a replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan city on Okinawa.
Protests have waxed and waned but swelled again when Okinawa’s outgoing Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima reversed course last year and approved a massive landfill project off the coast at Henoko.
Nakaima was defeated by Takeshi Onaga this month in a prefectural election that many considered a referendum on the base issue. Onaga, 64, has promised to legally block construction work at the site.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insists it has a mandate to build the replacement facility and will push ahead despite the opposition. But local media in Okinawa say that following the scuffles, Tokyo has paused construction until after the upcoming Lower House election.
Henoko’s protesters say they are staying put.
“If the trucks return we will sit on the road,” said Nakamine. “We’re determined to resist peacefully. The violence comes from the other side.”
Observers fear that the battle over the base could cost lives.
“It’s an irresistible force coming into contact with an immovable object,” said Douglas Lummis, a political scientist and longtime resident of Okinawa.
“Some thought if Onaga won, the people on the ground would take that as a reason they could leave it to him and back off,” he said. “But it seems to have energized the activists.”