Sunday, September 25, 2016

Okinawa gov't appeals high-court ruling backing US base relocation plans

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016/9/23 14:28:47

The Okinawa prefectural government on Friday lodged an appeal to a ruling made by the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court supporting the central government's controversial moves to relocate a US base within Japan's southernmost prefecture.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga was initially shot down by the high-court ruling made on Sept. 16, which found that Onaga's revocation of a landfill permit last October previously granted by his predecessor was "illegal."

The governor is a staunch advocate of blocking the central government's plans to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated coastal area of Nago in Henoko, also on the island.

The court also found that Onaga's subsequent rejection of the government's calls to scrap the revocation were also against the law, stating that the authorization for the land reclamation by former Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima in 2013 was "legal."

The central and prefectural government have been locked in a fierce standoff over the issue, with both sides suing and counter suing each other over the matter, leading to a court mandated settlement in March this year.

As tension continues to mount between both sides, and anti-US military sentiment continues to grow among locals on the island, the prefectural government lodged its appeal just one day after a US fighter jet based in Okinawa crashed into waters off the island's coast.

The latest crash highlights the safety risks posed by the US bases in Okinawa, as well as issues of noise, pollution and crime that have for decades plagued the residents of the tiny sub-tropical island.

Onaga was quick to express concern over the latest incident, telling a press conference on Thursday that the incident will "cause great fear among citizens," and expressed his "deepest regret."

He urged the US military to suspend flights of all its Harrier jets until the cause of the accident is known.

Harrier jets, known colloquially as "Jump Jets" for their ability to take off and land vertically, have been involved in 18 accidents since Okinawa returned to Japanese rule in 1972.

Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada also lambasted the US military here and demanded that such an incident not be allowed to happen again.

"I want to call on the US side to handle the operation of airplanes with the utmost consideration to citizens and our country. I will also like to call for thorough safety management," she said ahead of a trip to Okinawa from Friday through Saturday to hold talks with Onaga, which will be the first since assuming her current portfolio.

With the prefectural and central government at loggerheads over the base relocation issue, Onaga has said he will contest the high-court's decision in the Supreme Court, meaning a final ruling of the highest order may be made within the current fiscal year.

He said the high-court's ruling was unjust and excessively took the side of the central government. He added that the ruling had also trampled on Okinawan people's feelings.

The local people of Okinawa feel overburdened with being forced to host the bulk of US military facilities on their tiny island.

The island, which comprises just a fraction of Japan's total landmass, has seen the locals enduring serious instances of ongoing noise and air pollution, as well as accidents and a consistent slew of violent crimes committed by US military-linked personnel.

The central government inked an accord with the United States to relocate the Futenma base and return the land to Okinawa, but the building of a replacement facility has incensed the prefectural government and local citizens who want the base relocated outside the island or Japan altogether.

The landfill work necessary for the new base's construction will remain halted until the Supreme Court's ruling.
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