Work resumed Thursday on a new U.S. military air base on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, marking a victory for the central government in Tokyo over attempts by the island's governor to block the controversial relocation.
Angry protesters gathered outside the construction site on Henoko Bay as workers arrived with earth-moving equipment, several of the demonstrators sitting in the road and blocking the entrance.
Construction had been halted since August while Tokyo engaged in talks with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga aimed at reaching a compromise over the new location for the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Base. After the talks failed, Onaga revoked the original permits for the new base issued by his predecessor. The Defense Ministry appealed Onaga's revocation to land minister Keiichi Ishii, who invalidated Onaga's decision on Tuesday.
The Okinawa government plans to file a complaint with an arbitration board that hears disputes between local governments and Tokyo.
"This is an oppression by the state, and it is extremely regrettable. The state [government] has no room [to think about our position], it feels as if they are agitated. We will take a firmly deal with it going forward," said Onaga.
Japan and the United States negotiated the relocation of the Futenma Air Base from a heavily populated area of Okinawa to the less developed area of Henoko Bay. Residents living near Futenma have long complained of noise pollution from the base, as well as its location in the middle of a residential area. More than 19,000 U.S. Marines are stationed on Okinawa in order to rapidly respond to regional threats and provide disaster assistance.