Dec. 15 (UPI) — Work began on a new U.S military runway in Okinawa despite protests and resistance from local politicians in Japan’s southernmost island, according to multiple press reports Friday.
Construction started at Camp Schwab, a marine base in Henoko, ahead of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in densely populated Futenma, NHK reported.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki is denouncing the decision to build the base on the northern coast of Okinawa, despite an agreement reached between the Japanese government and the United States.
At a noon press conference at the prefectural office on Friday, Tamaki said the central government’s decision was made after “ignoring the will” of Okinawa residents.
“I have demanded a halt to the reclamation work at Henoko; however, I am furious about how the government disregarded Okinawa and is forcing [it],” he said, according to Stars and Stripes.
“Many believe in Tokyo that the reclamation process will make us give up but this is leading to even more local resistance…They should know, the more they force, our anger will fuel up even more.”
More than 100 protesters gathered at the construction site, including some residents who held picket signs in canoes, according to NHK.
In Tokyo on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the relocation was for the purposes of “eliminating the danger of the Futenma base.”
Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said after a session of the Cabinet the move is necessary given the “difficult security environment” and the best solution for Okinawa.
The prefecture accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan’s landmass, but 74 percent of U.S. troops reside in the area.
Residents have complained about the U.S. military presence. Past incidents, including the 1995 abduction and rape of an Okinawan girl, have prompted local calls for the complete removal of troops from the island.