July 22 & 23, 2016
In protest against the Abe government rushing to complete the construction of U.S. military helipads in the Takae district in Higashi Village, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly on July 21 adopted a statement demanding a halt to the helipad construction.
Pro-governor forces in the assembly, including the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Local Political Party of Okinawa, voted for the statement while the Liberal Democratic Party opposed the statement and the Komei Party absented itself from the voting.
The Abe administration is moving forward with constructing six helipads which will surround the Takae community in exchange of the return of part of the U.S. Northern Training Area stretching over Higashi and Kunigami villages. Of the six helipads, two are already completed and were turned over to the U.S. military in February 2014.
The statement notes that since the presentation of the two helipads to the U.S. forces, Ospreys have been flying over residential areas in Takae day and night. It goes on to state that Takae residents are exhausted physically and mentally due to continuous exposure to high levels of noise and low-frequency sound from Ospreys. The statement demands that the planned construction of four other helipads be cancelled.
At a plenary session, prior to the vote, JCP assembly person Higa Mizuki said, “Tokyo is pushing forward with the construction of military facilities in Henoko and Takae using iron-fisted measures. This reminds Okinawans of the “bayonets and bulldozers” tactic used by the U.S. forces to seize our land after the end of the war.”
Meanwhile, on this day, in front of a gate of the U.S. Northern Training Area which is adjacent to the construction site, 1,600 Okinawans across the prefecture assembled to block the helipad construction.
Ashimine Yukine of an anti-helipad residents’ group said, “For three weeks, I heard Ospreys flying over my house at low-altitude in the middle of the night. This poses a disruption to our normal lives. What I want is a life of peace in harmony with Takae’s rich forest. Why is the central government inflicting more hardships on us?”
Iha Yoichi, who defeated a LDP candidate in the July 10 Upper House election, in his speech said, “It’s a matter of course that part of the U.S. military facility site is returned to Okinawa. Building helipads in exchange for the return is unnecessary.”
JCP parliamentarian Akamine Seiken and JCP member of the Higashi Village Assembly Isa Masatsugu, who lives in Takae, also delivered speeches in solidarity.
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Provoking a howl of protest, the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau in the early morning of July 22 resumed the U.S. helipad construction. Riot officers barricaded the public road leading to the construction site. Construction vehicles and heavy machinery, guarded by private security firms, entered the site one after another.
About 200 residents were peacefully conducting a sit-in protest in front of the main gate of the site at that time. Shortly after 5:00 a.m., however, several hundred riot officers sent from across the nation to Takae began forcibly dispersing these people.
The protesters were crying out, “Where has democracy gone!” “This is an unfair crackdown!” or “Please, do not kill the animals and plants in the forest!” Seven or eight riot police surrounded each protester and pulled them up by their arms and legs. They, in some cases, painfully twisted an arm of people resisting. Riot police also towed away the vans the local people placed outside the site to block the entry of construction materials. The protesters shouted, “You thieves!” As a result of this chaotic event, three residents were injured and taken to hospital by ambulance.
At that time, Governor Onaga Takeshi was in Tokyo. Hearing the news later on the same day, he said to the press corps, “The central government used police force to forcibly clear off peacefully protesting residents. This is causing considerable fear and is a great shock to the prefectural people. It is extremely regrettable.”
Past related articles:
> Tokyo resumes US helipad construction work in Okinawa even after Abe Cabinet minister’s defeat [July 12, 2016]
> Okinawans suffer hardships from US Ospreys’ touch-and-go drills [December 9, 2015]
> Takae residents in Okinawa continues nonviolent resistance [October 28, 2013]