Police dragged away elderly protesters trying to block work on a contentious US airbase in Okinawa on Thursday (29 October) as Japan's government resumed building even though the Okinawa governor had revoked a work permit for the site. Residents of Okinawa don't want to host any US military bases at all and oppose the government's plan to move the US Marines' Futenma base to their location, saying it was an unequal burden to have 60% of US military personnel in 1% of Japanese territories.
Around 100 mostly elderly protesters gathered early on Thursday to make a blockade for construction trucks and bulldozers, before police dragged them away. Many held signs reading: "Get Out Marines," and "No Base Henoko."
The airbase is being expanded to accommodate marines that will be relocated from another base further south on the island of Futenma. The United States and Japan agreed in 1996 to close Futenma, located in a densely populated area, near residences and schools, that the central government says makes it one of the "most dangerous airports in the world". But plans to move it stalled due to opposition from Okinawa residents worried about noise, pollution and crime.
Deputy Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko told reporters at a regular news conference that eliminating this danger was a high priority. "We must move forward in eliminating the danger of, and relocating the Futenma US airbase, as quickly as possible. I believe that this would be granting the wishes of the people in Okinawa," he said.
"We will put maximum consideration on construction safety, the natural environment,and the living environment of citizens as we go forward in moving the airbase," he added.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, left for Guam on Thursday (29 October) to visit other sites that may be suitable for future relocation of US military bases, in a bid to ease local concern.