300-day Okinawans' struggle against U.S. base construction

February 12 marked the 300th day of residents' sit-in protest against the construction of a new U.S. military base in the sea off the Henoko district of Okinawa's Nago City. Gaining support from inside and outside of Okinawa, their struggle has been blocking the government from placing even a peg in the offshore Henoko district.

Around 7 o'clock every morning, more than ten boats leave Henoko's fishing port to stage an on-sea demonstration against the government's drilling survey for the base construction.

A fisherman from Ginoza Village said, "We could not have survived WWII without harvests from the ocean. It is wrong to destroy the nature that defended our lives. We will continue to struggle until they give up the construction."

Nago residents began their sit-in on the Henoko beach on April 19 last year, when the Naha Regional Defense Facilities Administration Bureau attempted to conduct a drilling survey in the offshore area. Facing their strong protest, the government gave up carrying the building materials to the Henoko beach.

In August, a U.S. military helicopter which took off from the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station crashed at the Okinawa International University. Attempting to create an accomplished fact for constructing an alternative site of the Futenma base before public calls for an unconditional return of the base site increased, the government forcibly started constructing the scaffold for the boring on September 9.

Concerns over the possibility that the drilling survey might destroy the environment arose from nature conservation groups. Last November, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) adopted an instruction urging the Japanese and U.S. governments to review their environmental impact assessments for a new U.S. base planned for construction in an area covering the habitat for an endangered species of dugong.

Nago residents' sit-in at a "tent village" in the Henoko beach has been joined by many people coming from all over the country. After staying at the beach for two months, Matsumoto Aki, a 22-year-old woman from Osaka, realized the need to increase anti-base calls in her local area. Now, she holds a signature campaign against the base construction every Saturday in front of Osaka Station.

Taira Natsume, a 42-year-old leading member of the Henoko protest, said, "In Tokyo and Osaka, a lot of young people have started their own activities after experiencing our struggle here in Henoko. If the movement spreads all over Japan, we can stop the base construction." (end)

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