Defiant wife of Japanese PM Abe visits US Okinawa base construction protest

Japan’s first lady Akie Abe says she is “ready to face criticism” after attending an anti-government rally, protesting the construction of new helipads at the US-operated military in Okinawa.

“This is my first step to create a world of love and harmony,” Akie Abe wrote in a Facebook status update.

The helipads are being constructed as compensation for a 1996 agreement, in which the US would hand back 4,000 hectares out of the 7,800 that constitute the training area, providing six new landing spots would be built on the remaining land.

Construction began in 2007, yet so far only two have been completed, after an unending series of protests and legal challenges.

Work has recently restarted, but residents of the nearby village of Higashi – who say that the helipads will be too close to residential areas – have blockaded roads, prevented trucks carrying materials from entering the construction site, and staged sit-ins.

Nearly three quarters of US military resources in Japan are located on the small archipelago to the south of most of Japan’s islands, and residents say they have long been inconvenienced by the base, which was constructed following the country’s defeat in World War II.

Helipad project resumes in Okinawa after barrier removed

Anti-U.S. base demonstrators and riot police clashed here on July 22, when authorities started removing a barricade set up to obstruct a project to build helipads for the U.S. military.

The Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau, which oversees the helipad project, said the barricade, consisting mainly of vehicles, had been dismantled and that construction has resumed.

But the scuffles involved showed that the protesters are far from ending their opposition to the project.

About 100 riot police arrived at a path leading to helipad construction sites near the Takae district of Higashi village in the prefecture’s northern region around 5:30 a.m.

About 200 residents, conservationists and activists had already assembled there to keep the barricade intact. Some lied down or sat on the path to block the police.

However, the riot police forcibly removed the demonstrators. Shoving matches ensued and screams of anger were heard when the protesters were carried away from the site.

“Are you going to lend a hand in the destruction of Yanbaru?” one of the protesters shouted, referring to the forest where helipads will be installed.

“We are against the helipad for Osprey,” screamed another, referring to the tilt-rotor aircraft used by the U.S. military.

One woman complained of being ill and requested help from emergency workers.

As of 11 a.m., the vehicle barricade had been removed, but more than 100 cars were still parked on the sides of the road to hinder the project. Supply vehicles still cannot enter the construction sites.

Construction started in 2007, and two helipads were completed by 2014. But work to build the four other helipads was suspended after opponents blockaded the path. On July 11, the day after Upper House election, the defense bureau started preparations to resume the project.

S. Korea premier pelted with eggs, bottles over missile site

Angry residents in a rural South Korean town threw eggs and water bottles at the prime minister and blocked him for more than six hours Friday to protest a plan to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system in their neighborhood.

Earlier this week, South Korea announced that the missile system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, will be placed in the southeastern farming town of Seongju by the end of next year to better cope with North Korean threats. Seongju residents launched protests, saying they fear possible health hazards from the missile system.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, accompanied by the defense minister and others, visited Seongju to try to explain the decision to residents but was immediately disrupted by jeers.

Some hurled eggs and water bottles, shouting "We oppose (the THAAD deployment) with our lives," according to TV footage.
A senior police officer was injured on his forehead.

Hwang didn't appear to be directly hit by any objects as security guards and aides used umbrellas and bags to protect him. But his suit jacket was tainted by eggs and he evacuated to a town hall office.

When he and the others came out of the building into a minibus, they were surrounded by hundreds of protesters, some using tractors. Hwang was held in the bus for more than six hours.

South Korean officials have dismissed as groundless a belief that THAAD radar systems emit electromagnetic waves that can cause health problems. Defense officials say the U.S. system is harmless if people stay at least 100 meters (yards) away from it.

The United States has about 28,500 troops in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea.

Seongju residents criticized the government for unilaterally deciding on the deployment without consulting them. About 200 Seongju residents made a protest visit to Seoul's Defense Ministry on Wednesday, and some wrote letters of complaint in blood. A group of 13 local leaders went on a hunger strike.

Officer may lose career after motorbike charge

A US Air Force officer with an “exemplary service record” may be sent back to America and discharged after he was caught driving a motorbike in Alice Springs just weeks after the court disqualified his driver’s licence.

Pacific Command Sergeant Carlos Alberto Novelo was convicted and fined $1700 in Alice Springs Local Court for driving a motor vehicle while disqualified on Friday. He was also disqualified from driving for a further six months.

The court heard Sgt Novelo was driving a red Honda 125cc when police pulled him over for a random breath test on Barret Drive at 11am on Friday May 27.

He did not return a blood alcohol reading.

He was on his way to deliver a seminar on suicide prevention in the defence force at Commander Major Troy Ruby’s house, according to defence lawyer Murray Preston.

“What has occurred has really put his career at risk,” he said.

“He has spoken to his immediate superiors and it has gone all the way to the top.”

“It affects his whole standing with the Air Force.”

“I would ask your honour to take a course that reflects his excellent behaviour and service out here assisting the Australian people and the American Government.”

Sgt Novelo, 33, has been in the US Air Force since he was 19 years old.

“The Air Force does impose whatever penalties they deem appropriate, which could see him sent back to America and possibly discharged,” Mr Preston said.

The maximum penalty for driving while disqualified is 12 months in prison.

US Military Worker Wants His Murder Trial Moved off Okinawa

A U.S. military contractor charged with raping and killing a 20-year-old woman in Japan has asked that his trial be moved outside Okinawa, saying he may not receive a fair trial on the southern island where the case has received extensive media coverage and opposition to U.S. bases is high, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Kenneth Shinzato, a former Marine who is a contractor at Kadena Air Base, was arrested in May when the victim's body was found. He has been charged with rape, murder and abandoning the body of the woman.

His lawyer, Toshimitsu Takaesu, said he submitted a request on Monday for the venue to be shifted to Tokyo because a local jury is likely to be prejudiced, and to allow Shinzato a proper translator and mental examination.

"What's most important is for him to have a fair trial," Takaesu said in a telephone interview from his office in Okinawa. "But after massive media coverage, many people already believe he is a bad guy and guilty. Under the circumstances, the verdict is likely to be guilty regardless of the evidence."

He said Shinzato has denied the murder and rape allegations.

In Japan, jury trials are held only in murder and other serious cases.

Japanese authorities have said Shinzato drove around looking for a target before attacking the victim as she was taking a walk at night.

Shinzato, a U.S. citizen from New York who was born Kenneth Gadson, married a Japanese woman on Okinawa and uses her family name. He was in the Marines before working as a contractor.

The case has sparked outrage and rekindled anti-U.S. military sentiment and protests on Okinawa, where residents resent a heavy American troop presence.

Shinzato's case led Tokyo and Washington to announce a plan Tuesday to reduce the number of civilian U.S. base workers covered by the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which protects service members from Japanese prosecution in case of on-duty or on-base accidents or crimes.

Shinzato is considered outside of the SOFA coverage and has been handled under Japanese criminal justice from the beginning.

More than half of nearly 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan under the Japan-U.S. security treaty are on Okinawa. In terms of space, more than 70 percent of Japan-based U.S. military facilities are on the small island. In 1995, three U.S. servicemen on Okinawa abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl in a case that triggered mass protests and led to an agreement to relocate a key air station to another area of the island. The plan has since stalled because residents want the base removed completely from the island.