Peace marches expected to snarl Okinawa
By David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida,
Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, May 11, 2007
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa • If you're driving along major highways on Okinawa now through Sunday, expect delays due to a three-pronged peace march by thousands of people commemorating the 35th anniversary of Okinawa's reversion to Japan.
Local residents, peace activists and labor union members from Okinawa and mainland Japan are expected to take part in the marches that were slated to begin Thursday and end Sunday with a massive attempt to encircle Kadena Air Base.
The Okinawa Peace March is an annual event that began in 1978, six years after the U.S. ended its WWII occupation.
Organizers say 3,000 people will participate in the marches, beginning with a gathering in the northern village of Kunigami on Thursday that will proceed south to Nago for a 6 p.m. protest rally against plans to build a Marine air facility on Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air
As of Wednesday, military officials on Okinawa had not issued any advisories concerning the protest activities.
On Friday, the marchers will take off on three routes.
The Eastern March will start Friday at the Henoko fishing port at 8:30 a.m. and will proceed south along Highway 329, stopping briefly for a rally in front of the main gate to Camp Hansen, organizers said.
On Saturday the eastern route will continue, starting at 8:30 a.m. in Uruma and heading south down Highway 329, diverting to Highway 330 and a rally in front of Kadena Air Bases' Gate 2.
The Western March starts from Onna village at 8:30 a.m. Friday and proceeds south along Highway 58 to Highway 6 in Yomitan and west to Torii Station, where another rally will take place. The western marchers then will pick up their walk at the Yomitan village office Saturday at 8:30 a.m., walking along Highway 6 and back to Highway 58, passing by Kadena Air Base's Gate 1, where they plan to have a brief rally.
The southern marchers step off Friday morning at Peace Prayer Park in Itoman. On Saturday they will start in Urasoe and walk north up Highway 330, pausing for brief rallies in front of the U.S. Consulate General's Office, MCAS Futenma's Gate 2 and Camp Foster's headquarters gate.
The three groups are scheduled to meet Saturday at the Chatan Town Ball Field for a rally at 6 p.m., organizers said.
Okinawa Peace March organizers say they expect about 20,000 people in an attempt to encircle Kadena Air Base in a protest expected to start at 3 p.m. Sunday and last one hour.
*"Although Okinawa is marking the 35th anniversary of its reversion to Japan, the U.S. and Japanese governments continue to pursue a military-first policy for the island,"* said Shiko Sakiyama, chairman of the Okinawa Peace Activity. He cited *plans to build the new air
facility on Camp Schwab and the recent move of Army PAC-3 missile batteries at Kadena Air Base as signs that Okinawa will continue "to bear the burden" of U.S. bases.*
*"Encircling Kadena Air Base is a way to express the voice of the Okinawa people against this military-first policy," he said. "It is also a way for us to send a message to the rest of the world that Okinawa aspires to world peace." *
Anti-base protesters last circled Kadena in July 2000, during the Group of Eight summit, drawing international attention to the Okinawa base issue. Then, 18,000 to 27,000 people, depending on who was doing the counting, *managed to join hands around the 10.8-mile perimeter of the air base*.