National

Hundreds in Okinawa confront police to mark a year since start of contentious Futenma relocation project

Kyodo

Protesters in Okinawa rallied after being removed from the replacement site for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Monday as they marked nearly a year since seawall construction began.

The government is building the seawalls in preparation for effectively moving the contentious base further north to a site adjacent to the Marines’ Camp Schwab, also on Okinawa. The project requires building an offshore airstrip and landfill work.

Over 300 people, including lawmakers, took part in Monday’s sit-in protest outside the gates of Camp Schwab in Nago’s Henoko district. The protest will last for six days through Saturday.

Forced out by riot police, the protesters rallied, saying they would never allow the building of new bases in Henoko, either on land or at sea.

Among them, a 50-year-old local resident vowed to “never give up.”

“We can stop the relocation by staging a sit-in and delaying the transfer of construction materials into the base,” she said. Dump trucks loaded with construction materials were also seen in the area.

Protestors included those from outside Okinawa. Moriko Kawasaki, a 71-year-old resident of Kawasaki, who said that by forcing the transfer of the base within the prefecture, “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is making a mockery of the people of Okinawa.”

The plan to move the air base from crowded Ginowan to less-populated Henoko in Nago continues to face fierce opposition from residents in the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

The prefecture has long sought to get the base removed from Okinawa altogether.

The central government maintains the airfield’s relocation to the Henoko is “the only solution” to address residents’ noise pollution and accident concerns while maintaining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.

While Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga opposes the project, he has not been clear on how the relocation work will be blocked.

Construction on the seawalls began on April 25, 2017, despite strong local opposition. The landfill work inside the seawalls is expected to begin in July.

Onaga has threatened to retract approval for the landfill work given by his predecessor, but whether he follows through on that threat remains to be seen.