100,000 Rally Against U.S. Marine Base On Okinawa
Tensions between the United States, Japan and the people of Japan’s Okinawa island are so strained over a U.S. Marine air base that the long-brewing controversy could topple the Tokyo government, Reuters news agency reports.
About 100,000 people rallied Sunday near the Futenma air base demanding the facility moved off the island in defiance of a pending 2006 agreement that it be relocated to a northern, less populous area of Okinawa.
Another proposal to move parts of the base 100 miles from Okinawa to the small island of Tokunoshima was greeted there with about 15,000 protesters last week.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama arbitrarily set a decision deadline for May but Tokyo media say Okinawans believe he has mishandled the controversy. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party swept to power last year with a 70% majority but support has waned to about 30% pending a poll of its upper house in July to enact the base relocation smoothly.
“To save the life, property and living environment of citizens, we Okinawans urge both Japanese and U.S. governments to give up the relocation of the Futenma airfield,” Kyodo News quoted a resolution adopted at the rally as saying.
In the campaign that swept his Democratic Party to power last year, Hatoyama had raised hopes the airbase would be moved off Okinawa, if not outside Japan entirely.
However, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada reportedly informed U.S. Ambassador John Roos Friday that Tokyo was leaning in favor of the 2006 deal with some runway design changes to the northern part of Okinawa.
The Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is home to about 4,000 Marines of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The air station operates a variety of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft in support of the III Marine Expeditionary Force. It also is used by a United Nations air group. It is situated in the center of Ginowan City (pop. 89,000).
The locals are upset at the base operations because of noise and pollution. In August 2004 a Marine helicopter crashed into Okinawa International University injuring three crew but none on the ground.
Three Marines raped a 12-year-old Okinawa girl in 1995 that infuriated Ginowan residents and triggered the animosity of relations between islanders and the U.S.
Futenma Airfield was a World War II Imperial Japanese air base until it was captured during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. It was initially used by the Eighth Air Force to station B-29 strategic bombers in the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland..
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Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.