Despite strong opposition on Okinawa to the U.S. military presence there, a superior court ruled Monday that Okinawa’s governor must renew land leases for U.S. bases on the island.
The ruling caps an unprecedented showdown between the central government and Gov. Masahide Ota, who had refused to act as a middleman for the U.S. military and Okinawan landowners, who refuse to sign the leases themselves.
Ota’s act was largely symbolic, and the court ruling against him had been expected.
But his defiance and the trial of U.S. soldiers convicted earlier this month of raping a 12-year-old girl have helped focus attention on demands that the nearly 30,000 troops on Okinawa be withdrawn.
Before Monday’s session at the Fukuoka High Court’s branch in Naha, the Okinawan capital, about 400 people lined up for only 38 seats allotted for general public.
Dozens of anti-military demonstrators waited outside, but they were peaceful and there were no arrests.
The suit against Ota was filed last December by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, after several attempts at persuading Ota to sign failed.
Ota has refused to sign the leases in proxy because he says the bases, which take up about one-fifth of Okinawa, hamper Okinawa’s economic development and are one of the main reasons it remains Japan’s poorest region.
Under mutual defense arrangements, Japan provides facilities to U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, where the United States maintains 47,000 troops.