NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – A protest took place in Okinawan waters Saturday near the planned new home of a contentious U.S. airbase in the prefecture, marking a year since full-blown landfill work began.
“We’ll never give up, let’s keep going,” the protesters yelled in chorus while paddling some 30 canoes off Henoko, the coastal district to which the base is being moved. Some were holding signs declaring “Remove all bases” and “Don’t kill corals.”
“The relocation work shouldn’t be carried out,” said Setsuko Yara, 76, who took part in the protest, which was accompanied by boats. “If I think such a beautiful sea will be lost, I can’t help but feel disappointment.”
The central government, ignoring fierce local opposition, initiated the landfill work as part of the bilateral deal to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from crowded Ginowan further north to Nago. Many Okinawans oppose the relocation plan and want the base out of the prefecture completely.
On Dec. 14, 2018, the government started adding soil and sand to a 6.3-hectare section of Henoko that’s next to a 33-hectare area where reclamation work began in March.
Work has been completed in about 70 percent of the smaller section, while around 10 percent of the larger area has been reclaimed, according to the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau.
The central government plans to reclaim 160 hectares in total to build two runways in a V configuration.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has asked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to halt the landfill work because a prefectural referendum in February showed that more than 70 percent of residents oppose the relocation plan.
But the Abe administration maintains that the plan is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base, which is in a crowded residential area of Ginowan.