Tens of thousands rally for removal of US base off Okinawa
Tens of thousands of protesters in Okinawa vowed to stop the planned relocation of a US military base, saying they want it off the southern Japanese island entirely.
Opponents of the relocation say the plan to move US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded neighbourhood to a less populated coastal site would not only be an environmental debacle but also ignore local wishes to remove the base.
About 70 000 people gathered on Saturday at a park in the
state capital of Naha under pouring rain ahead of an approaching typhoon and
observed a moment of silence for Okinawa's governor, Takeshi Onaga, who died on
Wednesday of cancer.
Onaga, elected in 2014, had spearheaded opposition to the
relocation and criticised the central government for ignoring the voices of
He had filed lawsuits against the central government and said
he planned to revoke a landfill permit issued by his predecessor that is needed
for construction of the new base.
'Strong determination and passion'
Deputy Governor Kiichiro Jahana, representing Onaga at
Saturday's rally, said he will follow through with the revocation process as
instructed by the governor and succeed his "strong determination and
Okinawans are trying to block the government plan to start
dumping soil into Henoko Bay within days to make a landfill for the new site of
the Futenma base.
Environmental groups say construction at the bay risks
corals and endangered dugongs.
The protesters held up signs saying "Henoko new base,
NO!" and "Okinawans will not give up", as they chanted slogans.
They also adopted a resolution demanding the central government to immediately
scrap the relocation plan.
Japan's government says the current plan is the only
solution, but many Okinawans want the base off the island. About half of the 50
000 American troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa.
Onaga had said Tokyo's postwar defence posture under the
Japan-US security alliance was built on Okinawa's sacrifice.
The dispute over the Futenma relocation reflects
centuries-old tensions between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland, which annexed
the islands, formerly the independent kingdom of the Ryukus, in 1878.
Okinawa was Japan's only home battleground in the final days
of World War II, and the island remained under US rule for 20 years longer than
the rest of Japan.
Okinawa is still forced to sacrifice for the interest of the
mainland, Onaga's son Takeharu, an Okinawa assemblyman, told the rally.
"The [relocation issue] is pushed to Okinawa because
nobody on the mainland wants it," he said, urging the rest of the country
to also think about the issue.
"Let us keep fighting so we can achieve my father's
unfinished goal and give him good news."
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