Japan resumes work on US base relocation site

Back on track: Preliminary construction work off Henoko in Nago city, Okinawa prefecture, where the Japanese government is planning to relocate a US air base from one area of Okinawa’s main island to another. — AP

TOKYO: Japan’s central government resumed work at a disputed US military base relocation site even though Okinawa residents see the project as an undemocratic imposition on the small southern island.

An early stage of landfill work at Henoko on Okinawa’s east coast began yesterday morning, following the central government’s decision this week to reverse Okinawa’s earlier ban on landfill work at the site, said Satoshi Shirakata, a spokesman at the Okinawa Defence Bureau overseeing the project.

Construction workers were setting up floats using a crane to mark the designated landfill area, making it off-limits to the public, Shirakata said. Opponents gathered in paddle boats nearby, while Coast Guard patrol boats blocked them from reaching the site, and dozens of other demonstrators rallied outside a nearby US base to protest.

“It’s outrageous,” Okinawa’s Deputy Gov Kiichiro Janaha told reporters in the prefectural capital of Naha, according to NHK television.

“The central government is not considering Okinawan’s feelings at all.”

He said Okinawa will demand talks with the central government.

At the centre of contention is a decades-old plan to move a Marine Corps air station from densely populated Futenma in the southern part of the island to less-crowded Henoko on the east coast.

Many Okinawans say the presence of so many US troops on the island is burdensome already and they want the existing Futenma air station closed and its replacement moved off the island entirely.

Okinawa Gov Denny Tamaki, who took office a month ago, has urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other central government officials to stop the Henoko plan and reduce Okinawa’s burdens.

On Wednesday, Tamaki said the central government was not giving due consideration to other options.

Washington’s position is that the dispute should be resolved between Tokyo and Okinawa.

Tamaki said he will travel to the US later this month to gain support from Americans on the issue. He said both Japan and the US should listen to the voice of Okinawans.

Tamaki was elected on his campaign promises to block the Henoko base and further reduce US bases on the island. He is the first person with an American parent to lead the island, which was occupied by the US. — AP

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