Tokyo wants to move the unpopular US airbase in a crowded residential district on Okinawa’s main island to a sparsely populated area in its northern part, but many residents want the base moved off the island altogether.
In yesterday’s suit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government asked the court in Okinawa’s capital city Naha to declare that a move by the region’s governor to block construction for the base is illegal.
“The national government’s hardline attitude toward Okinawa’s US base issue is extreme,” Okinawan governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters in Tokyo, citing local election results showing voters favour moving the base off the island.
“I have no choice but to call it a far cry from democracy,” he said.
However, Gen Nakatani, defence minister, reiterated that Onaga’s decision was illegal and that the government would make its case in court.
“Governor Onaga’s decision to cancel the approval was illegal.
We will argue that the infrastructure minister’s order (for him to reverse his move) is appropriate,” Nakatani said.
More than half the 47,000 American troops in Japan under a decades-long security alliance are stationed on Okinawa, the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island.
A series of crimes including rapes, assaults and hit-and-run accidents by military personnel, dependents and civilians have long sparked protests.
Tempers flared again in northern Okinawa yesterday, where protesters clashed with police as the central government resumed the construction of helipads for US forces – a separate issue from the base relocation that is the focus of the lawsuit.
Riot police pushed and shoved protesters who refused to move from near a US military training area as construction resumed, Japanese television footage showed.
Protesters used more than 100 vehicles to block an access road to the training area, according to the Asahi Shimbun daily.