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Protesters inhibit, but not stop helipad construction

Date Posted: 2011-03-04

The protesters blocked a construction site entrance gate in northern Okinawa, where workers are in the process of building a new helicopter landing pad in Higashi Village's Takae District.

The new helipad is related to a partial return of the U.S. Northern Training Area. A dozen Okinawa Defense Bureau employees and approximately 70 construction workers have been impeded by protesters as they attempted to unload sandbags. Officials say the work slowed as protesters at the N-1 Gate scuffled with workers who were trying to move workers and sandbags onto the construction site.

Workers were also attempting to relocate heavy machinery used on the site over the past few months, but a citizens group involved in the protest refused to move a car parked in front of the gate. Protesters suspicious of the Okinawa Defense Bureau's intentions, are demanding to "see the progress of research" because they believe the ODB will not cease operations during the noguchigera's nest building period March through June. The governmental agency has said it will stop, but refused to support visitors. A spokesman for the Okinawa Defense Bureau cited reasons "why we cannot let them enter there."

Tokushin Yamauchi wants his group to be allowed to enter the site to insure heavy equipment has been removed. Shinji Isa, a Takae district resident, says "I wish the Okinawa Defense Bureau won't do work after March, but I think they are going to continue work such as carrying in sandbags." Hiroji Yamashiro, secretary-general of the Okinawa Peace Movement, says "we will be wary of their work after tomorrow. If their forces work we'll protest with a sit-in in front of the Okinawa Defense Bureau.

"We demand that the construction plan be halted," said Denny Tamaki, a local resident and member of the House of Representatives. "We tell the workmen they cannot talk to local inhabitants if they're going to remove obstacles one by one." An Okinawa Defense Bureau spokesman says workers did take away gravel that was scattered in the forest around the work site, putting it in bags. It insists there was no new gravel taken onto the site.

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