Tens of thousands of people gathered in sweltering heat on Japan’s Okinawa island yesterday in one of the biggest demonstrations in two decades against US military bases, following the arrest of an American suspected of murdering a local woman.
The protest marked a new low for the US and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in their relations with the island and threatens plans to move the US Marines’ Futenma air station to a less populous part of the island.
Organisers said 65,000 people attended the rally at a park in central Naha.
“Japan is part of Japan and when you hurt your little finger the whole body feels pain. I want Abe to feel Okinawa’s pain,” said Shigenori Tsuhako, 70, who came to the event because his granddaughter is the same age as the 20-year-old murdered woman, Rina Shimabukuro.
The US and Japan agreed in 1996 to close Futenma, located in a residential area, after the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl by three US military personnel spurred demonstrations.
That plan has been on hold because residents near the proposed relocation site oppose the move, worrying about noise, pollution, and crime.
Okinawa hosts 50,000 US nationals, including 30,000 military personnel and civilian contractors.
The site of some of the bloodiest fighting between the US and Japan in the Second World War, Okinawa remained under American occupation until 1972 and around a fifth of it is still under US military control.
Lieutenant General Lawrence D Nicholson, commander of the Marines there, said Washington may be able to return a 40.5 sq km tract of jungle early next year, which would be the biggest hand back since 1972.
Japan’s Self Defence Force is fortifying the region.
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