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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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25 Best Senators’ Memories From 25 Years at Canadian Tire Centre

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There is a special birthday in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata this weekend.

Canadian Tire Centre turns 25. Its doors first opened on Jan. 15, 1996, for a Bryan Adams concert. The Senators played their first game in their new arena on Jan. 17, 1996, when they lost to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life has at that arena. I don’t know how many Sens games I have been to there — I would ballpark it somewhere between 600 and 700. But I thought it would be fun to look back and share my 25 most memorable moments at the arena. I am not counting numerous concerts as great moments in the building — I often joke that the four best concerts I have ever seen there are Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks and Garth Brooks. I am not counting the 2009 World Juniors either. I am sticking entirely to the Sens.

25. Paul MacClone

Mike Watson was just sitting in his company seats, minding his own business, watching the Ottawa Senators take on the Florida Panthers on a January night during the 2012-13 season. The casual discussion among reporters after the game was how he broke Twitter.

Watson’s friends had told him that he looked like then-Senators’ head coach Paul MacLean. When he got face time on the new high-definition scoreboard, in the front row and directly behind the coach, the crowd buzzed and cheered.

Senators coach Paul MacLean had a doppelganger behind the bench.

The shot of Watson behind the bench spread quickly on social media. Surely, everyone thought, he must have been planted in that seat. He wasn’t. The last time he had sat in those seats, Cory Clouston was the coach, and no one noticed him.

As the season went on, the MacLean doppelganger became a local celebrity and was somewhat of a mascot during Ottawa’s playoff run.

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With spare parts and derring-do, Ottawa’s own Rocketman reinvents skating

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An Ottawa man is turning heads on frozen stretches of the Ottawa River with a homemade device he jokingly refers to as his “jetpack.”

In reality, Brydon Gibson’s gas-powered, propeller-driven invention is more Rona than NASA.

“I got my hands on some weed whacker motors and I figured strapping one on my back and making skating a little bit lazier would [be] a good idea,” said Gibson, 24.

He bolted a 38-centimetre propeller to a wooden frame, fashioned a throttle out of a brake handle and cable salvaged from a 10-speed bike, then added padded straps cut from a dollar store backpack. He laced up his skates, and suddenly Gibson was zipping along at speeds reaching 40 km/h. 

“I was actually getting a little scared at one point because I was going a little too fast,” the inventor admitted.

There are no brakes, but there is kill switch to cut the power “when something goes wrong,” said Gibson. “It’s actually a little finicky.”

This is not the first iteration of Gibson’s invention. As a teen, he built an electric propulsion device in his parents’ basement, though it never got to the testing phase.

“Ever since I was a kid … I’ve been taking apart things I found on the side of the road, making a mess of my parents basement, spreading electronics everywhere,” he said.

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‘It is frustrating’: U.S-educated nurse from Ottawa hits barriers to getting licensed in Ontario

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Before she accepted a swimming scholarship to attend Boston’s Northeastern University, Ottawa’s Rachael Geiger made sure it had the kind of nursing program she wanted. The school’s baccalaureate nursing program offered a fifth year of co-operative placement after four years of study — something Geiger thought would leave her well prepared for a career as a nurse when she returned home after university.

But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Two and a half years after graduating summa cum laude from Northeastern, the 25-year-old is unable to work as a registered nurse in Ontario.

Geiger said she was initially surprised, especially since she wrote the same licensing exam in Massachusetts as is written in Ontario, the NCLEX-RN exam. She is licensed to practise in Massachusetts and Illinois.

“I never thought it would be such a challenge.”

She and her family are frustrated at how difficult it has been for her to get registered to be able to practise in Ontario. That frustration is heightened by the fact that nurses have seldom been in such high demand in Canada and around the world as the COVID-19 pandemic strains health systems and shortages loom. Local hospitals are among those trying to recruit nurses. The Canadian Nurses Association has been warning that Canada will experience extreme shortages in coming years.

“It is frustrating to sit and see all the news about nursing shortages and not be able to help,” said Geiger.

Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the professional association that represents registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in the province, said she was “more than surprised” to hear of the difficulty Geiger has had.

But Grinspun, who initially studied nursing in Israel and then the U.S. before becoming one of the country’s nursing leaders, said the system of allowing foreign trained nurses to work in Ontario is unnecessarily slow and complicated and leads many valuable nurses to simply give up or find another career. Grinspun herself challenged the system when she first came to work in Ontario.

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