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Over 150 social groups from approximately 40 countries and almost 5700 people signed in only five days an urgent call to stop the building of four US military helipads in the Japanese area of Takae, Higashi in Okinawa prefecture. National organizations are denouncing police abuses against the resistance of local citizens.
In a press release issued on August 4, the environmental organization Friends of the Earth Japan said that the gathering of signatures through an urgent call together with numerous environmental organizations, among others, was a response to the Japanese government decision to continue the helipad construction works and to remove by force those local demonstrators who expressed their opposition.
Friends of the Earth Japan also warned that they will continue gathering signatures and denouncing the issue at international level to stop the building of the helipads. The signatures will be submitted to the National Defense Ministry (See: http://www.foejapan.org/en/aid/160730.html).
The urgent call is titled: “We must act now to protect the precious biodiversity of the Yanbaru Forest and the lives of the people of Takae! The construction of the US military helipads in Takae cannot continue!”
“Yanbaru” is a subtropical rainforest in the Kunigami mountains in northern Okinawa, with great biological diversity. It is a refuge for many endemic species including the Yanbaru Kuina (or Okinawa Rail), an endangered flightless bird specific to this area. Takae, Higashi is a small village with a population of 150 people who have protected the forest and consider it the “residence of the gods”.
As denounced by the urgent call, “the US Marine Corps, abetted by the Japanese government, are now in the process of constructing four more V-22 Osprey helipads in addition to two existing operational helipads”. The building will surround the residential area of Takae and will require the clearing of large extensions of forest areas.
According to information in the national media, the Project is part of a 1996 agreement between Japan and the US to reduce the military presence of the US in Japan. The US had agreed to return 4000 hectares of the 7800 of the Training Area, provided six helipads were built in the remaining area. Two of those six helipads have been already built.
On July 22, approximately 500 anti-riot police officers were sent by the Japanese government to clear a peaceful “sit-in” near the entrance to the construction site. The urgent call of Japanese organizations warns that the use of violence by the police resulted in sending three demonstrators to emergency services. It also adds that according to legal professionals, the actions by the government have been illegal.
“We demand that the governments of Japan and the United States immediately cease the construction of the helipads, and the trampling of human rights, the destruction of biodiversity and the interruption of the peaceful lives of Takae residents”, states the press release.
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