Japan's top court backs U.S. base relocation within Okinawa

By Allen Cone  |  Dec. 20, 2016 at 10:00 AM
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TOKYO, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Japan's top court ruled in favor Tuesday of the central government's plan to relocate a U.S. Marine base within Okinawa despite opposition from the island's governor.

The Supreme Court said Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga acted "illegally" when he revoked an October 2015 order by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, for the landfill work of the relocation plan. The court made the decision without any hearings.

Plans are to relocate the U.S. Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

The Japanese Times reported many people in Okinawa want Futenma to be relocated outside the prefecture because of noise, crime and accidents linked to the U.S. bases. Also, on Dec. 13, an MV-22 Osprey aircraft crash-landed off Nago and operations involving the craft have been temporarily halted.

More than 100 people gathered in front of the top court to protest against the ruling, shouting slogans such as "No New Henoko Base."

The central government says the relocation plan, developed with the United States, is "the only solution" for removing the dangers posed by Futenma.

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said in a statement his ministry plans to "swiftly resume" the landfill work, which was suspended amid the dispute.

In its September ruling, the lower court noted the danger and noise problems posed by Futenma are "serious" but the relocation plan will reduce the "overall" burden on the island.

Onaga, who was elected in 2014 on a campaign pledge to oppose the relocation, has said he will retract his revocation once his lawsuit is finalized. But he's been studying other options to prevent the relocation, including not renewing permission for work that involves damaging the coral reefs and endangered dugong, a marine mammal.

Three-quarters of U.S. bases in Japan are in Okinawa but the island accounts for 0.6 percent of the country's total land mass.

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