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203,800 signatures collected for White House petition to halt US base work in Okinawa

Robert Kajiwara, left, and other activists stage a rally in front of the White House in Washington, on Jan. 7, 2019. (Kyodo)

FUKUOKA -- A petition urging United States President Donald Trump to halt landfill work in the southernmost Japanese prefecture of Okinawa to build a U.S. military base to replace another one in the prefecture collected approximately 200,000 signatures by its one-month deadline.

The petition was set up on a section of the White House website called "We the People" on Dec. 8 last year by 32-year-old Hawaiian composer Robert Kajiwara, who has roots in Okinawa. The petition specifically calls for a halt to all construction work off the coast of the Henoko district in the northern Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago until a prefectural referendum on the construction of the base is held on Feb. 24. Land reclamation there began on Dec. 14 to build a new base to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the southern prefectural city of Ginowan.

This screen capture shows a petition to the White House seeking a halt to the landfill work off the coast of Henoko in Okinawa to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps base.

If a petition on "We the People" site collects 100,000 signatures within a month, the U.S. government is said to provide an official response.

Although the deadline was set at 2 p.m. on Jan. 8 Japan time, a month from the launch of the petition, Kajiwara said that he had been contacted by the White House, and that people could continue to sign the petition until there is a response from the U.S. government. The number of signatures had been just under 200,000 before the one-month deadline, but subsequently, the number grew to some 203,800 as of Jan. 9 Japan time, making it the fifth most signed petition on the "We the People" site.

In an email interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Kajiwara remarked that the huge response to the petition was a testament to the desire that many people have to protect Henoko. He also said that it proved that the people of the world were supporting Okinawa, and were interested in protecting Henoko's coral reef.

This screen capture from Brian May's Twitter account shows the Jan. 7 tweet calling on people to sign a petition to halt land reclamation work off the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

Calls to sign the petition spread through social media, garnering support from Ryucheru, a television personality originally from Okinawa, and model Rola. Brian May, guitarist from the British rock band Queen, also called on people to sign the petition, tweeting that it was the "last chance to sign a petition to stop the destruction of an irreplaceable coral reef in Okinawa."

(Japanese original by Hiroya Miyagi, Kyushu News Department, and Shihoko Abe, Kurume Bureau)

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