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Vol. 74/No. 22      June 7, 2010

Okinawans rally to close
U.S. military facilities
More than 17,000 people formed an eight-mile human chain around the Futenma U.S. military base on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa May 16, demanding it be closed.

The protest came three weeks after 90,000 rallied in the largest demonstration ever against the base. Located in the middle of the densely populated city of Ginowan, the base is a center for U.S. helicopter and transport plane operations in the area.

Okinawa, an island with less than 1 percent of Japan’s population, is host to more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. Washington has more than 100 bases and facilities across the country, three-quarters of them on Okinawa.

The actions occurred as Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama reversed his election campaign promise to move the U.S. military base off Okinawa. Instead, he has decided to honor a 2006 agreement with Washington that moves the Futenma base to a less populated area of Okinawa and transfers 8,000 Marines to Guam by 2014.

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Japan for a few hours May 21 to discuss the necessity of keeping U.S. troops on Okinawa. “We want to maintain the security of Japan and the stability of the region,” said Clinton. She blamed the North Korean government for the recent sinking of a South Korean warship, a charge that Pyongyang denies.

Japanese foreign minister Katsuya Okada said the government was working to convince Okinawans that “in the current security environment, the presence of U.S. forces is indispensable for the security of Japan.”

Futenma has been the U.S. military headquarters in Japan since 1945. During World War II one-fourth of Okinawa’s residents were killed. In 1951 the island became a U.S. military colony until reverting back to Japan in 1972.

Okinawa is strategically located in the Pacific, equidistant from Tokyo, Seoul, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The U.S. government launched major operations from Okinawa during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the invasion of Iraq in the early 1990s.

The base has long been a target of protests by residents. In 1995 massive demonstrations erupted after the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen. In 2004 a U.S. Marine helicopter crashed into a building at Okinawa International University, leading to calls to move the base.

Former Okinawa governor Keiichi Inamine said that if the Japanese government keeps the base on Okinawa, “You might see people’s anger begin blowing up like pent-up magma erupts from a volcano.”
Related articles:
Washington, Seoul threaten N. Korea
S. Korea gov’t imposes trade sanctions
White House lays out plans to strengthen nuclear threat
Washington pushes new sanctions against Iran
U.S. hands off Korea!  
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