Japanese police drag away elderly protesters as work starts on controversial US airbase (VIDEO)

Protesters lie on the ground as they try to block work on a contentious U.S. air base in front of the gate of the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo October 29, 2015. © Kyodo
Protests have erupted in Okinawa after the Japanese government resumed work on a controversial US airbase, even though construction had been blocked by the local governor. Police dragged away elderly demonstrators while they shouted “What are you doing?”

Around 300 mostly elderly protesters gathered on Thursday to block the main gate at Camp Schwab in the city of Nago. However, local police ruthlessly dealt with the demonstrators, the Asahi Shimbun reports.

One elderly woman with a cane yelled "Put me down!" as she was hauled off, as cited by Reuters.

"What are you doing?" another white-haired woman shouted at police. "Aren't you supposed to be protecting citizens?"

The age of the elderly protesters did not seem to bother law enforcers, who could be seen dragging them away from a cordon, where they were conducting a sit down protest. Some of the demonstrators were carrying placards inscribed with slogans such as, ‘Go Home Marines’ and ‘Close The Airbase.’

When riot police tried to carry away a woman who looked to be in her 80s, Katsuhiro Yoshida, an Okinawa prefectural assembly member, shouted, "Get your hands off the 'obaa' (elderly woman)."

"Don't the people of Okinawa have sovereignty?" 70 year-old Yoshida said. "This reminds me of the scenes of rioting against the US military before Okinawa was returned to Japan (in 1972). Now we are facing off against our own government. It is so contemptible.”

The demonstrations were not just on land, but also took place at sea as a group of protesters gathered in canoes; however, they were also met by a heavy police presence.

The governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, was incensed by the actions of the law enforcement officers, especially as he had revoked permission granted for the construction of a new US military base to host the US Marine Corps, following their relocation from the Futenma Air Station from the heavily populated city of Ginowan.

"All I can sense is strong-arm governance, which is extremely unfortunate," he said.

Greenpeace Japan also released a statement condemning the decision by the Japanese government to re-start construction of the airbase, despite 80 percent of the local public being against the move. The organization also mentions that the Bay, where the construction work will take place is home to “262 endangered species, including the rare Japanese dugong.”

“[The] Rainbow Warrior is setting sail for Okinawa later this week, after accepting the invitation of local citizens’ groups and politicians for Greenpeace to pay a goodwill visit to the island,” the rights group said on their website.

Despite widescale local opposition, Tokyo is determined to plough ahead and construct the military base.

"We in the government want to proceed with the Futenma move as soon as possible," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said.

Japan’s Defense Ministry announced it would restart work on a land reclamation project earlier this week in defiance of Governor Onaga’s ban. The work, which started on Thursday, will create storage space needed to start the landfill work. The Okinawa Defense Bureau will also continue a seabed drilling survey off the coast of Henoko, where an alternative US base could be built.

LISTEN MORE: