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Start of U.S. military base construction work in Henoko triggers protest by locals

Residents opposing the start of construction work for a U.S. military base in Henoko sit down in protest outside the gates of Camp Schwab in the city of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture, on April 26, 2017. (Mainichi)

NAGO, Okinawa -- More than 100 people took part in a protest here in the morning on April 26 to oppose the start of reclamation work the previous day for a U.S. military base at Henoko that will replace the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan.

Banners with messages such as "We must not lose" could be seen at the protest, reflecting the angry mood of local residents.

With occasional showers overhead, the protesting residents kicked off their sit-down demonstration from about 7:30 a.m. on April 26 dressed in waterproof coats. The location of their protest was deliberately chosen as the area in front of Camp Schwab in Henoko, with the intention of trying to block any construction-related vehicles from approaching the building site.

Furthermore, the co-leader of the Anti-Helicopter Base Council Hiroshi Ashitomi, 70, who protested the start of the construction work from a boat off the coastline the previous day, delivered a speech during the April 26 rally. "If stones sink into the sea (for construction purposes), then we will clear them away. We will build a human stone wall and firmly stop the construction work," he said.

Takao Matsuba, 74, from the Takae district of the Okinawa Prefecture village of Higashi, who took part in the sit-down protest, has gone through years of suffering caused by loud noises made by U.S. military aircraft such as Ospreys, due to the relocation of a helipad to an area near to his home. "I don't want Henoko to have to suffer the same fate. Okinawa's fight will not fade away following the start of construction work."

Another Okinawa Prefecture resident Ryokichi Chinen, 77, who can still not forget the sight of bleeding children hit by bomb shrapnel during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, is angry: "I cannot forgive the building of a military base for the purpose of war. My anger toward the government has surfaced upon discovering that construction work on the new base has started. We must not forgive a government that ignores the will of the Okinawan people."

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