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Okinawa protesters enraged as Henoko base construction rolls on day after referendum

Protesters demonstrating against the relocation of a U.S. Marine base to the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, are seen outside the Marines' Camp Schwab on the morning of Feb. 25, 2019. The second placard from the right reads, "We don't need military bases anymore!" (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

NAGO, Okinawa -- A day after Okinawa residents voted overwhelmingly in a prefectural referendum to reject a new U.S. Marine facility here, about 40 protesters gathered to chant "Face Okinawa!" as dump trucks continued to roll into the base construction site.

The Feb. 24 referendum, which was not legally binding, asked residents of Japan's southernmost prefecture if they agreed with the land reclamation work for the construction of a facility in the Henoko district of Nago to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan to the south. Given three options -- agree, disagree, and neither -- more than 70 percent of votes cast rejected the base.

The morning after the landslide victory for the "No" forces, protesters outside the U.S. Marines' Camp Schwab -- the access point for the new facility -- raised their voices in dismay as dozens of dump trucks loaded with earth and sand for land reclamation work rumbled by one after another.

"The anti-base side won by a landslide in the prefectural referendum. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should do the honorable thing and retreat (from the base project)," said 69-year-old Keiichi Yamauchi to his fellow demonstrators outside one gate into Camp Schwab at just before 9 a.m., drawing applause. Some of the others in the crowd could be seen brandishing the front page of a local daily, the headline proclaiming "72% against new base."

However, about 30 minutes later, the dump trucks began to arrive and enter the U.S. Marine base. Some protesters wondered aloud, "Aren't they ashamed to keep up construction the day after the people made their views so clear?" They formed human barricades two- to three-deep to try and stop the trucks, but riot police cleared them away from in front of the gate.

"They keep on building even the very next day (after the referendum). There's no accepting such idiotic actions," said 76-year-old Katsuhiko Nakamura. "I cannot forgive an administration that crushes the will of the people beneath its boot."

Prime Minister Abe said on the morning of Feb. 25 that he would take the referendum result "with sincerity," but that the base relocation "cannot be put off any longer," indicating his determination to press ahead with the Henoko plan.

"I've gone past anger to terrible frustration," said protester Koyu Fukushima, 68, from the prefectural village of Ogimi, about the prime minister's comments.

Hiroji Yamashiro, chairman of the anti-base Okinawa Heiwa Undou Center, told the crowd in front of the Marine base, "The era when (the central government) could keep absurdities locked up in Okinawa is over. We will show Okinawa's anger to the whole country, and to the whole world."

(Japanese original by Masashi Yomogida, Fukuoka News Department)

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