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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Opponents to aircraft, bases, official policy see Noda weakening, try to press their advantage

Ospreys reach Iwakuni; protest held

Staff writer

IWAKUNI, Yamaguchi Pref. — Protesters on land and sea greeted the arrival of a ship carrying a dozen MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture early Monday.

The 12 are the first of a 24-Osprey group to eventually be deployed to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa to replace the base's aging CH-46 helicopters.

But local-level resistance nationwide to the controversial hybrid aircraft shows no sign of relenting, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, with his political clout weakening, is expected to face strong resistance over their presence in Japan, on top of the overall public opposition to the Futenma base and plans to relocate it elsewhere in Okinawa.

The freighter carrying the Ospreys docked at the Iwakuni base at around 6:30 a.m. Fifteen people in six inflatable boats staged a protest in the bay surrounding the base, while around 150 more held an onshore rally.

After being assembled and test-flown at Iwakuni, the Osprey are expected to relocate to Okinawa in early October. But 41 towns and villages in Okinawa, as well as the prefectural assembly and governor, have formally opposed the deployment, making that schedule politically troublesome. The Yamaguchi Prefectural Assembly also opposes the odd-looking aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a plane.

In a further setback for Tokyo's hopes for an early deployment, the National Governors' Association passed a resolution Friday opposing the move and calling on the central government to ensure the safety of the Osprey and explain the cause of a June accident in Florida and an April crash in Morocco that killed two marines.

In Iwakuni Monday, protesters said Noda faces a clear political crisis over the Osprey deployment but noted the issue needs to be seen in a larger context.

"Opposition to the Ospreys is a continuation of the Ajisai (hydrangea) Revolution, the anger people feel and the protests over nuclear power that have been taking place in Tokyo and elsewhere all summer," said Kyoko Taniguchi, a protester from Hiroshima.

Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda said Iwakuni's "forced acceptance" of the Ospreys without convincing the public of their safety or receiving a final U.S. report on the two recent accidents, due next month, has only fueled local anger.

"The central government didn't listen to the concerns of local residents. I want the U.S. to take the Ospreys back, even though they arrived in Iwakuni, if their safety can't be confirmed," Fukuda said.

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The Japan Times

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