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Okinawans set to vote on US military base relocation | News

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Okinawans will vote in a local referendum on Sunday over the landfill construction of a US Marine Corps base in Henoko, a plan that has been at the centre of controversy since its announcement in 1996.

The prefecture of Okinawa, comprising Japan‘s southernmost islands that make up just 0.6 percent of Japanese territory, is currently host to more than 74 percent of US military bases in the country.

The new base construction comes as part of the government’s promise to relocate the US military airbase in Futenma, a densely populated residential area, to the less-populated village of Henoko.

But the government’s relocation plan has faced long-standing opposition from Okinawan residents, who say the landfill construction will devastate the marine life in the coral-rich bay of Henoko.

Moreover, the residents argue that the plan runs counter to the government’s purported aim of “alleviating the burden” of US military bases on Okinawa, including noise pollution from military aircrafts and the series of accidents and sexual assault of local residents by US military personnel.

“We’re being forced to choose between Futenma and Henoko, without the option to say we simply don’t want military bases,” says Yukiko Chinen, whose six-year-old daughter attends Midorigaoka Nusery school near Futenma air station, where an object fell onto the school’s roof from a US helicopter last year.

US military aircraft have reportedly continued to fly over the school premises since the accident.

“For me, the referendum is a fight for that option, to get beyond the idea that we have to somehow give up one or the other,” she added.

While the referendum is non-binding, its proponents believe that the prefectural vote could add to the mounting pressure on the Japanese government to halt the multi-billion-dollar project, which has continued despite the overwhelming victory of Okinawan Governor Denny Tamaki, who ran on an anti-base platform last fall.

In a recent poll conducted by Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times, nearly 70 percent of the voters said they are planning to vote against the construction of the base in the referendum, which gives them three choices: “for,” “against” or “neither.”

‘Right to choose’

The call for a referendum in Okinawa began in the fall of 2017, when a 27-year-old graduate student, Jinshiro Motoyama, started organising public meetings to discuss the possibility of an island-wide referendum with local residents.

“There was a certain sense of resignation among people around me, that there was nothing we could do about the bases,” says Motoyama, who grew up in Ginowan city near Futenma air station.

“I thought a referendum in Okinawa could give people a chance to talk to one another and share their experiences about the realities we are facing,” he added. 

After establishing the Henoko Okinawa referendum committee, the group headed by Motoyama and supporters of the referendum collected more than 100,000 signatures on petitions, quickly surpassing the 23,000 needed to put the relocation plan to a prefectural vote.





Okinawans stage anti-base demonstrations in front of Camp Schwab in Henoko in February 2018 [Lisa Torio/Al Jazeera] 

The move, however, also met some pushback, not only from supporters of the base project, but even from those opposed to the construction, who feared a negative outcome could be a setback for anti-base efforts.

“Those were difficult conversations for sure,” says Motoyama. “But I think it’s important for Okinawans to keep having these conversations, to listen to each other and bridge the divide.”

For Motoyama, the referendum is ultimately as much about the process as it is about its outcome.

“It’s not just about political impact,” he tells Al Jazeera. “What’s important is getting people to realise that we have a voice in the matter. We have a right to choose.”

‘Break the cycle’

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it clear that his administration would push ahead with the construction project regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

In Henoko, the government continues to deploy hundreds of riot police from across the country to suppress the peaceful protests held daily at the construction site.

The Japanese government’s disregard for Okinawan public opinion and the disproportionate US presence on the islands has its roots in the islands’ history.

Originally belonging to an independent kingdom, the Ryukyu islands were invaded by Japanese forces in 1609 and annexed in 1879.

During the Second World War, the islands became the site of one of the bloodiest ground battles between Japan and the US, in which one in four Okinawans lost their lives.

The island came under US control after Japan’s defeat in the war. Even after Okinawa was “reverted back” to Japanese rule in 1972, US military bases continue to take up 18 percent of the land on Okinawa’s main island.

“It’s been almost 50 years since the ‘reversion’ of Okinawa and the government is still trying to build a new military base,” says Masaya Kinjo, 54, who has been participating in the daily sit-ins in Henoko since 2016.

“With this referendum, I want the world to know that what’s happening in Okinawa has been going on for generations.”

This weekend, supporters of the referendum have organised a 70km march across Okinawa as a way to encourage voters to head to the ballot box.

For Chinen, who plans to participate in the march with her little daughter, the referendum is part of a larger movement.

“When my daughter grows up, I want her world to be different from the one I grew up with,” she tells Al Jazeera. “We’re fighting to break the cycle.”

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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