Japan court rules in favour of US base relocation

Tokyo: Japan’s top court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s ruling in favour of the government’s plan to relocate a US Marine Corps air base within the island prefecture of Okinawa, the media reported.

According to the court ruling, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga acted “illegally” when he revoked in October 2015 an approval issued by his predecessor for the landfill work of the relocation plan, Xinhua news agency reported.

Onaga has said he would swiftly retract the revocation but whether he would explore other options to block the relocation plan has caused attention.

Meanwhile, over 100 persons gathered in front of the top court on Tuesday to protest against the ruling, shouting slogans such as “No New Henoko Base”.

The central government has been seeking to relocate the US Futenma base from Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago, saying it is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the base to the crowded residential area without undermining the Japan-US alliance.

The Okinawa people, however, have called for the base to be removed from the prefecture, complaining of sufferings caused by aircraft noise, crimes committed by the US servicemen as well as other safety concerns.

Onaga, well known for his opposition to the plan of relocating Futenma base within the prefecture and elected Governor of Okinawa in 2014, revoked in October 2015 an approval issued by former governor Hirokazu Nakaima for the landfill work of the relocation plan.

The move triggered a legal battle between the central government and the local government last year as the two sides sued each other over the issue, which was halted in March when a settlement deal was reached under court mediation.

According to the settlement, the construction work related to the relocation was halted, while the central and prefectural governments held talks and awaited a ruling to be made by an arbitration panel under the internal affairs ministry.

Okinawa hosts some 75 per cent of US bases in Japan while accounting for only 0.6 per cent of the country’s total land mass.

Anti-US base sentiment has been high in Okinawa, especially after a former US Marine working as a civilian employee at the Kadena Air Base was arrested in May for raping and murdering a local woman.