Okinawa sues Tokyo in bid to stop US base relocation

TOKYO: Local authorities on Okinawa filed a lawsuit against the central government on Friday in a bid to stop the relocation of a US air base on the southern Japanese island.

The Okinawa government says the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism illegally suspended the prefectural governor's cancellation of approval for reclamation work needed to relocate US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less-populated part of the island.

The central government filed its own lawsuit against Gov. Takeshi Onaga last month, after he rejected an order from the Land Ministry to reinstate approval, issued by his predecessor, for the land reclamation. The ministry went ahead with the reclamation work.

The legal battle is the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between the central government and Okinawa, formerly a tiny kingdom that was annexed by Japan in the 16th century.

Many residents want the US base moved out of Okinawa entirely. They have been long frustrated by heavy US troop presence on the tiny island and have complained about noise, pollution and crime associated with the foreign bases.

Under a Japan-US security treaty, about 50,000 American troops are stationed in Japan, more than half of them on Okinawa.

Onaga was elected last year, widely supported by voters who feel Okinawa bears an unfair burden of the US military presence. His anti-base stance has also made residents of Okinawa, an island with a distinct culture, more aware of their identity.

Some critics of the landfill plan also object to potential environmental damage to the previously undeveloped Henoko shore.

Tokyo briefly suspended the reclamation work earlier this year while seeking a compromise with Onaga, but has since overridden local objections to resume the work.