NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – A massive crowd gathered in Okinawa on Saturday to protest the government’s controversial plan to relocate a contentious U.S. air base to another part of the prefecture.
Some 70,000 people took part in the rally at a park in Okinawa’s capital Naha, where they adopted a resolution urging the central government to abandon the plan to transfer U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from densely populated Ginowan to the coastal area of Henoko in Nago, according to an organizer.
At the start of the gathering, the participants offered a silent prayer to late Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who died of cancer Wednesday in the midst of his anti-base campaign.
Onaga fiercely confronted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration over the base relocation, demanding it be moved outside the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Onaga’s son Takeharu, who is an Okinawa assemblyman, said in his speech during the protest that his father spent a lot of his time studying ways to block the base transfer to Henoko while he was hospitalized and receiving treatment for cancer.
“He told me even though Okinawa has been going through difficult times, we can become a powerful force if we stand up to challenges as one,” he said.
Deputy Gov. Kiichiro Jahana, the acting governor, reiterated his intention to continue the prefectural government’s procedures, as instructed by Onaga, to retract the approval for landfill work for the base relocation that was given to the central government by Onaga’s predecessor.
Okinawa and the central government have already fought a number of times in court. Tokyo believes the base is necessary for Japan to maintain the perceived deterrence provided by the United States, while many in Okinawa regard it as an unfair burden on the prefecture.