Massive protest against military runway planned for Sunday on Okinawa

Protesters block the gate to Camp Schwab, Okinawa, in April 2015 following the arrest of a protester for assaulting Japanese police. Organizers say a protest rally planned for Sunday, May 17, 2015, against a new U.S. military runway being built at Camp Schwab could draw as many as 30,000 people.


By STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 14, 2015

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Organizers say Sunday’s planned protest rally against a new U.S. military runway being built at Camp Schwab in Okinawa’s remote north could draw as many as 30,000 people.

The 1 p.m. rally is being organized by business, political, academic and labor union leaders at Okinawa Cellular Stadium, usually reserved for professional baseball teams, including Major League all-stars when they visit the island. The event is called “Seventy Years After the End of WWII — Stop Construction of a New Military Base at Henoko.”

Okinawa’s small but vocal protest movement against the new runway, being built into Oura Bay at Henoko, often refers to the plan as a “new military base.” However, a large Marine Corps base has been on the site for decades.

The runway will facilitate the closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in a densely populated urban area of central Okinawa. Local media reports indicate Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga will attend.

Closing Futenma has long been a priority of both the U.S. and Japanese governments amid growing safety concerns.

Onaga ran on an anti-base platform and vowed to halt the project, which was approved by his predecessor. His election in November was largely seen as a referendum condemning the project. His victory emboldened the protesters, who cite a series of concerns, from environmental considerations to a desire for a smaller U.S. military footprint on the island.

Protesters have become more energetic and aggressive since his election, with confrontations with base guards and Japanese coast guard vessels in the bay, harassment of military and non-military personnel, and bomb threats.

“No matter how long it might take, we will never give up our fight until the government gives it up,” said Keiichi Takara, director of the Confederation of Trade Unions Okinawa. “Through the rally, we will reaffirm our resolved commitment.”

Organizers vowed to deliver a resolution adopted at the rally to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office. Onaga reportedly plans to visit Washington before mid-June to convey their position.