TOKYO, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- Japan's central government on Friday began offshore landfill work for the relocation of a controversial U.S. military base in Okinawa amid angry protests from locals opposed to the move.
In the coastal Henoko region in Nago on the island, the planned location of the replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, sand and soil started being dumped just before noon (local time) in an area spanning more than six hectares on the southern side of the landfill site.
Angry protestors gathered from early morning to voice their ardent opposition to the landfill work and the building of a new base.
Some took to the waters in small boats and canoes to try and physically disrupt proceedings, holding placards denouncing the contentious landfill work.
One man in his 60s was quoted as saying the central government had lost the trust of the people of Okinawa over the base relocation issue.
A women in her 70s held a placard stating that the will of the (Okinawa) people should not be ignored. A placard held by another lady also in her 70s read: "No more U.S. bases. Americans go home!"
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who held last-ditch talks with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya a day earlier in a bid to halt the landfill work, told reporters Friday, "I cannot help feeling strong resentment toward the work being carried out in defiance of the prefectural residents' will."
He called on the wider Japanese public to support Okinawa's position on the base move and said that the anger of the Okinawa people would grow the more the central government pushes ahead with the controversial construction work.
"The more the government forcibly proceeds with the construction work, the stronger the anger of the prefectural people will grow," said Tamaki.
Tamaki, a staunch opponent of the central government's plans to relocate the base under a pact with the U.S. in 1996, has also raised the issue that the Defense Ministry initially said the reclamation work would take five years, but in actuality it will take far longer due to the construction process having been changed.
As per the ministry's plans, ultimately, 157 hectares of land will be reclaimed from pristine waters and a V-shaped runway will be constructed.
Tamaki was elected as governor in September's gubernatorial election on a platform of opposing the base's relocation and lessening Okinawa's base-hosting burdens and has since been pushing to resolve the issue through dialogue with the central government.
The central government, however, has forged ahead unilaterally with land reclamation work necessary to build the new base after the Land Ministry issued an injunction to suspend Okinawa from revoking a permit for the landfill work.
The Okinawa prefectural government's appeal for the suspension was also dismissed by court.
Despite these setbacks, Tamaki intimated on Friday that he still had ways to halt the construction work by not giving his approval to specific ground improvement work the central government may need to conduct inside the landfill site.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, yet the tiny sub-tropical island accounts for just a small fraction of Japan's total landmass.
Tamaki had previously said that the central government's persistent push to continue with the landfill work is completely unacceptable and against the will of Okinawans who wish to see the base moved outside of Okinawa and Japan altogether.
The prefectural government is urging the people of Okinawa to make their voices heard nationally and internationally by calling a referendum on the issue on Feb. 24.