Okinawans angry at restart of US base expansion work
Protests flared in Okinawa over the restart of ocean bed surveys in preparation for the expansion of a U.S. Marine base in the southern Japanese island.
Public broadcaster NHK showed workers installing floating barriers off the coast at Henoko, where land is to be reclaimed to build new runways. An 84-year-old woman was taken to hospital after hitting her head during a standoff between protesters and riot police, the Okinawa Times newspaper reported. The Okinawa Defense Bureau declined to comment on the work.
Seventeen years of wrangling over the new facility, meant to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in a crowded city on the island, appeared to end in 2013 when the then governor of Okinawa agreed to the project. The debate reignited in November with the election of a governor who opposes the base relocation.
The standoff may hamper Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to strengthen Japan’s ties with the U.S. amid a territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea about 250 miles from the main island of Okinawa. Successive Japanese governments have struggled to fulfill alliance expectations while trying to quell local anger.
“We want to do all we can to achieve the fastest possible return of the Futenma base,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo. “We want to proceed with the relocation steadily, while taking safety into consideration.”
Construction began a day after the cabinet approved the first cut in funding to Okinawa in five years. Suga said the reduction, which compares with a 0.5 percent rise in the overall national budget, wasn’t related to the governor’s stance on the base.
Protesters turned out in boats to oppose surveys of the ocean bed at Henoko last year, which were suspended in September due to adverse weather and the prefectural election, according to NHK.
Some Okinawan residents complain of noise, accidents, crime and pollution related to the military bases. The island hosts about three-quarters of the U.S. bases in Japan on only 0.6 percent of the country’s landmass.
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