Protest over housing plan expected at Ikego
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A protest billed by organizers as the town of Zushi’s largest in 20 years will take aim at a long-proposed expansion at the Navy’s Ikego housing area Sunday.
The U.S. and Japanese governments agreed in 2005 to build 700 additional housing units on Ikego to replace other units the Navy plans to give back to Japan.
The plan also called for an elementary school along with a tunnel to connect the base, which is partially located in the cities of Zushi and Yokohama.
Although local objection to the plan is nothing new, protesters are coming out in force now because of a change in the political climate.
The Democratic Party of Japan, which took power last year, has already shown more willingness to question existing agreements with the United States, as evidenced by the move to renegotiate an unpopular plan that would relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to another part of Okinawa.
Izumi Kato, the demonstration organizing committee’s secretary general, also hopes the rally will influence Zushi’s newly elected city council, as well as its December mayoral election.
The Ikego construction plans do not require any additional land beyond the base gates. As part of the 2005 agreement, the U.S. government agreed to return 40 hectares of land to Japanese government authority.
However, the protest group said that the project violates an earlier agreement with Zushi not to build any more housing units. The proposed construction would be built entirely on the Yokohama side of the base.
A rally will be held in Daiichi Park, not far from the base. Following speeches, protesters will march about one mile to Zushi city hall, passing the Ikego main gate sometime between 1 and 3:30 p.m., according to organizers.
Organizers said they are expecting up to 2,000 people from labor unions, citizen groups and political parties throughout Japan.
Kato said Sunday’s rally will be the largest since 1989, when the Japanese government decided to build the current units at Ikego.
Base officials generally ask U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement personnel to avoid Japanese political demonstrations.