Vowing to Stop US Military Base, Okinawa Elders Dragged Away by Riot Police
'Don't the people of Okinawa have sovereignty?'
Elders were dragged away by riot police on Thursday after linking arms, lying on the ground, and blocking vehicles in a bid to physically prevent the construction of a widely-opposed U.S. military base in the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan.
Hundreds joined in the demonstration in front of Camp Schwab with the aim of stopping vehicles from transporting materials to build the American installation. "Don't lend a hand in the construction of the military base!" the crowd chanted.
"Don't the people of Okinawa have sovereignty?" 70-year-old Katsuhiro Yoshida, an Okinawa prefectural assembly member, told Japanese paper The Asahi Shimbun. "This reminds me of the scenes of rioting against the U.S. military before Okinawa was returned to Japan (in 1972). Now we are facing off against our own government. It is so contemptible."
The confrontation was captured in the following video footage:
Okinawa is home to over half of the 50,000 U.S. military service members in Japan, and over two-thirds of U.S. military bases in the country.
For nearly 20 years, the U.S. has sought to transfer the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Okinawa base from the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, further to the north.
This plan is overwhelmingly opposed by the people of Okinawa and has been met with protests by tens of thousands of residents, who warn of the hazards of proximity to the U.S. military presence, including sexual assaults by service members, violence, and the environmental threat to the area's ecosystems.
Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga, elected on an anti-base pledge, two weeks ago revoked the permit for the U.S. miltiary installation. But Japan's land ministry announced this week that it is overriding Onaga's blockage and permitting the defense ministry to resume work on the controversial base.
"The fact that they forcibly executed this construction, there is nothing but anger," Takashi Kishimoto from the Okinawa Peace Movement Center told NBC News. "We are outraged at these political tactics which ignore will of the people."
The Okinawa protests follow nationwide mass mobilizations against the militarization of Japanese society, including the recent passage of a series of widely unpopular that would allow the country's soldiers to participate in the foreign wars of the United States and other allies.