Osprey protesters block gates at Futenma
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Demonstrators blocked many of the gates of Futenma air station Friday during the third day of protests over the upcoming deployment of Marine Corps Osprey aircraft to Okinawa.
The Marine Corps on Okinawa warned U.S. personnel to avoid Futenma due to the public protests, which it said are expected to be “sizable” and to last for the foreseeable future. Japanese police are ensuring that one entry way into the base remains open.
Despite deep public concerns over the safety of the helicopter-airplane hybrid, the U.S. and Japanese governments approved the deployment of the Ospreys earlier this month.
A squadron of aircraft were scheduled to arrive at the air station Friday after completing test flights at the Marine Corps air station at Iwakuni on the Japanese mainland, but the deployment was delayed due to a typhoon forecast to blow over the two bases during the weekend.
Despite the delayed deployment, about 100 protesters blocked access to Futenma’s main gate chanting anti-Osprey slogans and facing down dozens of Japanese police officers, who did not immediately attempt to remove them. There was no visible U.S. military presence.
On Thursday, Japanese media reported a small scuffle between protesters and Japanese police who tried to remove them from a secondary gate at the air station, and a day early the mayor of Naha led a protest against the aircraft deployment.
Okinawans have opposed the deployment for the past year, calling the Marine Corps’ tilt-rotor aircraft dangerous and defective. The United States and Japan both conducted independent investigations into two recent catastrophic Osprey crashes and determined that pilots and not the aircraft were to blame. In April, two Marines were killed when an Osprey went down during training in Africa and a June crash in Florida injured crew members and destroyed the $78 million aircraft.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima again asked Tokyo this week to block the arrival of the Osprey.