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Okinawa Pref. to sue nat'l gov't in bid to halt relocation of Futenma base

Protesters in canoes and on boats stage a demonstration around the reclamation site off the coast of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on May 15, 2017, the 45th anniversary of Okinawa's return to Japan. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- The Okinawa Prefectural Government is set to sue the national government as early as July demanding a halt to work to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture, sources close to the prefectural government said.

Gov. Takeshi Onaga is poised to submit the plan on the legal action to the prefectural assembly during a session to be convened in June. If the assembly approves the proposal, the prefectural government will file the suit in July at the earliest. The prefectural government will also file a petition for a provisional injunction to ban the work until the court hands down a ruling on the main lawsuit.

The prefectural assembly is highly likely to give the green light to the lawsuit because the ruling bloc supporting the governor has a majority in the assembly.

The prefectural government's permission for crushing reefs, which is necessary for reclamation work off the Henoko district of Nago, to which the Futenma base is expected to be relocated from Ginowan, expired at the end of March. However, the national government has been continuing the work on the assumption that it does not need to gain permission from the prefecture because the local fisheries cooperative has abandoned its fishing rights in the area.

In late April, the central government also began seawall construction work, the first phase of the reclamation work.

In response, the prefectural government issued an administrative guidance to the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau on May 29, urging the department to gain permission for crushing reefs. The prefecture asked the bureau to respond to the guidance by June 1.

Since the bureau is poised to continue its work despite the administrative guidance, the prefectural government will begin preparations to launch a suit against the national government.

In a related development, Gov. Onaga said in late March that he intends to withdraw permission issued by his predecessor for reclamation work in the offshore area of Henoko. He is now carefully considering the timing of retracting the permission, according to a high-ranking official of the prefectural government.

In December last year, the Supreme Court upheld lower court decisions that ruled Onaga's earlier revocation of the reclamation permission issued by his predecessor was illegal.

If the prefectural government files a suit seeking a ban on the relocation work, the ongoing conflict between the national and prefectural governments over the base relocation will develop into a fresh legal battle.

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