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.