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Protesters oppose start of offshore work for U.S. base relocation in Okinawa

Protesters stand in the path of vehicles involved in offshore work in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, and chant a slogan in front of the U.S. military's Camp Schwab in Nago on Feb. 6, 2017. (Mainichi)

NAGO, Okinawa -- Protesters staged a demonstration here against the start of offshore work on Feb. 6 to build a substitute facility for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

Those against the base relocation within the prefecture attempted to block vehicles involved in the work in front of the U.S. military's Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago where the work got underway.

Local residents and others opposing the project expressed anger and displayed a feeling of desperation as the countdown for reclamation off Henoko has begun.

Shortly before 6 a.m. on Feb. 6, opponents began to gather in front of the gate to Camp Schwab while it was still dark. Concrete blocks to be used for the reclamation work were brought into the area.

"We have no choice but to block workers from entering the site in order to prevent the work from further progressing," said one protester.

About 150 people took part in the protest, putting up signs saying "No to the new Henoko base" and "Block reclamation off Henoko," and chanted slogans.

"Unless local residents demonstrated their will today, it would mean Okinawa accepted the central government's plan. Even if the government were to ignore our wishes, the prefectural residents' resolve remains unwavering," said 63-year-old Tsugiyoshi Inafuku, a resident of Haebaru, Okinawa Prefecture.

At 8:15 a.m., a car carrying workers arrived at the site. The workers attempted to enter the site, but protesters sat in front of the entrance to block the workers. Riot police officers from the Okinawa Prefectural Police formed a line to block protesters and allowed the vehicle to enter the site through an adjacent exit.

Protesters responded by shouting, "Follow proper procedures."

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who had just returned from the United States after visiting the country with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga to appeal for the prevention of the base relocation to Henoko, also joined the protesters.

"In the United States, I think they listened to what we talked about concerning the current situation of Okinawa. It is our national government that keeps completely ignoring our opinions. During our visit to the U.S., the defense minister (of Japan) shamelessly expressed her view that 'the relocation to Henoko is the only solution,'" the mayor told the protesters.

Large trucks and cranes subsequently arrived at the scene one after another. The protesters formed a line in front of the gate and shouted, "Go back, go back," in chorus. They then skirmished with riot police officers.

About a dozen workers came out of a vehicle blocked by protesters and walked toward Camp Schwab at around 10:30 a.m. The demonstrators used banners in a bid to block the workers but they managed to go inside.

Protesters shouted to the workers, "Please get back."

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