Elderly Japan protesters dragged away at US military base demo

TOKYO - Japanese police on Thursday dragged away a group of elderly protesters trying to block construction of a US military base in Okinawa, the latest flare-up in tensions over the bitterly opposed project.

Hundreds of local Okinawans, most of them elderly, were staging a sit-in protest with their arms linked in a bid to block trucks and other construction vehicles.

In response, police dragged away some demonstrators including physically picking up frail activists, television images showed.

"Okinawa doesn't belong to the United States or the central government," a visibly angry Hiroshi Ashitomi, 69, told the Jiji Press news agency.

The clash comes days after the Japanese government overturned a move by Okinawa's governor to stop work on the US base relocation site.

The proposal to move the Futenma air base, first mooted in 1996, has become the focus of anger among locals, who insist it should be shut and a replacement built elsewhere in Japan or overseas.

Earlier this month, outspoken Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga revoked approval for work on the base in Japan's southernmost island chain, which Tokyo later reversed.

"I am furious that this construction work has been forced to resume," Onaga said Thursday.

Many Okinawans insist the base should be shut and a replacement built elsewhere in Japan or overseas.

Residents have long complained that the rest of Japan must share the burden of hosting US military facilities, along with accidents and crimes committed by US service members.

Okinawa, which was controlled by the United States for nearly 30 years after World War II, now reluctantly hosts more than half of the 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.

Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly backed the plan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisting it was "the only solution".