Okinawans demand closure of US bases

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Tokyo, May 15 (IANS) Around 1,000 protestors marched in Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture, on Sunday in protest the relocation of a controversial US military base and demanded the closure of all bases on the island.

The demonstration coincided with the 44th anniversary of the return of Okinawa from the US rule to Japan, Xinhua news agency reported.

The protestors held placards saying they opposed the Japanese and US plans to relocate the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the less-populated coastal region of Henoko, also on Okinawa island.

In 1996, the Japanese and US governments inked an accord to close down the Futenma base and return the land occupied by the facility to Okinawa, with the transfer of the base’s functions aimed partly at reducing the burden on Okinawa and its people.

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The demonstrators marched close to the controversial base located in the densely-populated region of Ginowan, as well as close to sites that were associated with the bloody Battle of Okinawa in 1945, which was the only US land assault on Japan during WWII and saw more than 100,000 soldiers and as many civilians killed during the hostilities.

The demonstrators also called for the scrapping of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “security plans”.

The recent enacting of related bills could see Japanese troops deployed to active war theatres overseas for the first time since WWII and in blatant violation of the nation’s pacifist constitution.

Urging Abe to step down, one demonstrator told the media: “He (Abe) has his own war agenda and does not reflect the feeling of Japanese people who love peace.”

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The elderly lady, whose banner read “Peace Not War”, said: “We Okinawans, more than anyone, know the devastation and brutality of war. Now is the time to stand up and say no to this dangerous war agenda.”

Okinawans have consistently called on both the prefectural and the central government to see their base-hosting burdens lifted and rallies at the site of the replacement facility in the coastal Henoko region as well as in Naha have become more frequent and more vociferous of late.

Okinawa hosts some 75 percent of US bases in Japan, yet the tiny sub-tropical island accounts for less than one percent of the county’s total land mass.

The rally on Sunday followed similar demonstrations held a day earlier in Japan’s southernmost prefecture, also calling for the US bases be permanently shut down, the land be returned and Abe’s war agenda be entirely abandoned.

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