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Monday, July 30, 2012

Antinuke demonstrators set their sights on Japan's Diet building

Ordinary citizens by the thousands join activists in protest rally


By SETSUKO KAMIYA and MIZUHO AOKI
Staff writers

Thousands of people, including ordinary citizens and antinuclear activists, gathered in Tokyo Sunday afternoon in an attempt to form a human chain around the Diet building, calling for the abolition of nuclear power plants and putting more pressure on the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

News photo
A woman's banner at Sunday's antinuclear demo in central Tokyo says it straight. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

In the past, protest rallies around the Diet were usually organized by political parties and labor unions. But like many other rallies organized in the aftermath of the triple meltdowns that erupted in the Fukushima disaster, Sunday's was attended by many nonactivist citizens.

"This is really a very hot summer, but although none of the nuclear power plants of Tokyo Electric Power Co. are operating, we're not short of electricity in Tokyo," said Keiko Ochiai, an author who is among the organizers of the rally.

"We have to push for the halting of the Oi nuclear power plant, and need to keep the government from restarting other nuclear power plants," she said, referring to the nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture at which two reactors have been reactivated following safety checkups mandated in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Protesters gathered at around 3:30 p.m. at Hibiya Park in Chiyoda Ward under a scorching sun with hand-made signs and banners in their hands.

After marching roughly 1.5 km through the Uchisaiwaicho district and close to JR Shinbashi station, the protesters surrounded the Diet building holding candles and penlights to put more pressure on lawmakers to stop the planned reactivation of more nuclear reactors.

The organizer, Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, an association of antinuclear citizens' groups, initially planned to provide candles to every participant, but with the number of attendees ballooning, they decided to hand them out only to those who were able to stand near the main entrance of the Diet building.

As police did not permit the rally participants to enter the area between Kokkaiura and Kanteimae intersections, organizers said they could not surround the Diet entirely. Organizers said about 200,000 people took part in the rally that day, while police estimate that the number was between 10,000 to 20,000.

Some of the participants said they were attending an antinuclear rally for the first time.

Maya Yamaguchi, 25, from Tokyo's Meguro Ward, said she was concerned about the issue and wanted to hear what others were saying. She signed an antinuclear petition and wrote about it on her Facebook page, which was picked up by her friend, Yuri Inomata, 27, who invited her to join her at the rally.

Inomata, from Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture, now believes that many people have changed their attitudes toward antinuclear demonstrations.

"I think more people realize that this issue concerns ourselves," she said. "It's important for us to keep raising our voice," she said.

Kotaro Kikuchi, 22, a student from Iwate Prefecture, said he travelled to Tokyo on Sunday morning with his friend, but with a somewhat different aim than participating in the rallies.

"I guess most of the people who gathered here want to say 'no' to the restart of nuclear reactors. But I came here to say 'no' to "fuhyo-higai" (the damage caused by groundless rumors) that the Tohoku region has been suffering from" since the triple-meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Kikuchi said.

Kikuchi, who was participating in a demonstration for the first time, said the Tohoku region won't recover if rumors continue to circulate based on groundless fears of radiation, which he says is making people shy away from the area.

"I've heard that some boards of education decided not to choose Tohoku as a destination for school trips," Kikuchi said. "When I heard that, I really thought we have to raise our voices. Otherwise, Iwate Prefecture won't be revitalized."

Kikuchi said that the nuclear crisis that led to the rumors and subsequent damage should never be allowed to happen again.

Laurent Mabesoone, 43, a French haiku poet from Nagano Prefecture, said he and his wife, Toyo, 42, and their 4-year-old daughter also arrived in Tokyo on Sunday morning to participate in the rally. Living only 60 km away from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, he expressed his opposition to restarting idled power plants.

"If the same kind of accident happens at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, it'd all be over. We should not allow the restart of the power plant," he said.

Mabesoone said he kicked off an antinuclear campaign in Nagano Prefecture on Friday. "Over 100 people gathered. We will continue to hold the demonstration in Nagano every Friday to coincide with Tokyo. . . . From reactions on Twitter and Facebook, I guess the number will grow more," Mabesoone said.

"I believe it's time to raise our voices. Otherwise, there won't be a future for us," his wife said.

If we continue to raise our voices, our wishes will eventually be heard by the government, she added.



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