Japan demolishes anti-airport protest relics
Work crews on Wednesday began demolishing two huts built in 1971 on land earmarked for Narita Airport, relics of a radical protest against the building of Japan's main international gateway. The structures are a legacy of bloody protests that left police officers dead as home-made bombs were tossed by leftist students, activists and farmers who said they were the victims of a land grab in rapidly-modernising Japan.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012
Dozens of huts were built in a bid to halt the construction of the huge airport in a rural spot around 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside Tokyo. Some of them remained as the airport was built around them, leaving one of the taxiways bent. The demolition of two huts was given the green light by Tokyo High Court in April after it ruled in favour of a landowner who asked for the return of a family plot.
"We will start the court enforcement of vacation of the land," an official from Chiba District Court announced at the site on Wednesday as some 30 grey-haired protesters attempted to stop work crews. Around 100 police officers moved them along and there were no reports of injuries or major trouble at the scene, according to the Chiba Prefecture Police. "We will not let it happen," a protester said via a megaphone, while fellow activists held banners declaring: "We will not allow the destruction" of the buildings.
At the height of Japanese radicalism in the 1970s, thousands of extreme leftists congregated at dozens of similar huts in and around the area in a bid to stymie the airport. Japan was in the middle of a decades-long period of blistering economic growth as the ruined and largely rural country that emerged from the defeat of World War II rose to become the globe's second largest economy. In 1966, the government decided to build the airport outside the capital after Haneda Airport in Tokyo Bay reached its capacity.
As the authorities began expropriating farming lots, many smallholders physically fought back. They were later joined by leftist students and activists staging violent protests. There were regular clashes between riot police and the thousands of protesters at the site using home-made explosives, resulting in the deaths of at least three police officers and one activist. Hundreds of farmers and protesters were arrested and the airport became a rallying point for anti-government movements throughout the country at a time many Japanese felt disenfranchised by the rapid pace of change. But after the height of violence in the 1970s, the movement gradually lost its momentum. Eight other huts still remain on land allocated for the airport or around it, according to Kyodo News. One of them has forced a taxiway to be bent to avoid it.