‘Marines out!’ Okinawa demonstrators mark 500th day of protest against US base (VIDEO)
Demonstrators shouted “Stop the relocation work” while waving signs reading “New Henoko base, no” and “Marines out,” The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.
When riot police and vehicles entered Camp Schwab on Wednesday, they were met with protesters who staged a sit-in at the front of the base's gate to block construction vehicles, according to The Japan Times.
“Protect the people of Okinawa, not the US base,” the protesters shouted.
Citizens' group leader Hiroji Yamashiro, 63, said the demonstrators' fight had “reached a critical point,” adding that the protesters were aiming to “beat down [the state] and win at any cost.”
The Wednesday protest marked the 500th day of a sit-in protest outside the main gate of Camp Schwab. Rallies have been taking place at the site since July 7, 2014.
The turnout was much larger than usual, according to organizers, particularly because the 500th day of protest came just one day after the central government of Japan sued Okinawa over local resistance to the military base.
Following the filing of the lawsuit on Tuesday, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga renewed his pledge to prevent Tokyo from building the new base, which is aimed at replacing the existing Futenma facility in Ginowan, Okinawa.
“We cannot accept any plans to build the base... no matter what," Onaga told a news conference, adding that “we will insist and prove that our ideas are legitimate" in court.
In October, Onaga canceled a 2013 approval for the project by his predecessor, saying it was not legally sound. The central government of Japan is now asking the court to void the cancellation order of a landfill permit required to build the offshore facility.
"The legal action was necessary in order to remove danger associated with the Futenma air base," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
Local residents have insisted that the current Futenma air base should be closed and its replacement should be built elsewhere in Japan or overseas. They argue that they can no longer live with noise pollution, accidents, and the occasional crimes committed by US service members.
The Japanese and American governments first proposed moving Futenma in 1996, though both insisted it must remain in Okinawa – a strategic island giving the US troops and aircraft based there widespread access to East Asia.
Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total land area but hosts about 75 percent of US military facilities in the country. The US has maintained a presence on the island since the two sides fought a bloody battle there in 1945. The US occupied the island for 27 years before handing it back to Japan in 1972.