Mass rally in Okinawa demands bases pullout .
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
by Therese Hart
Marianas Variety News Staff
ABOUT 100,000 protesters attended a rally on Okinawa Sunday to demonstrate against a U.S. air base in a row that is dominating Japan's national politics and souring its ties with Washington, according to Kyodo News and AFP.
News wires reported that Sunday’s gathering was the largest demonstration on Okinawa since the island reverted to Japan in 1972 after 27 years of U.S. occupation.
The protesters joined local politicians in calling for the removal of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and vent their anger against the central government for dragging the issue out, according to the foreign wire agencies.
Kyodo News reported that Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima, the speaker of the Okinawa assembly and most of the mayors of the Okinawa prefecture's 41 towns joined the huge protest near Kadena Air Base, the Asia-Pacific region's largest US military facility.
Demonstrators held yellow banners with messages protesting against the US military presence, including: "No Base!" and "US bases leave Okinawa!"
Meanwhile, Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Saturday denied a Washington Post story that Japan is close to supporting portions of the 2006 alliance to move U.S. Marines from Okinawa’s Futenma air base to the more northeast coast of Okinawa.
In a nationally televised news conference, Hatoyama said going along with the plan to build a new air facility on Camp Schwab — on the Henoko Peninsula and reclaimed land in Oura Bay — was unacceptable, according to the Stars and Stripes European edition.
"The report is not true," Hatoyama said. "We cannot accept the existing plan."
He said putting the air base on land reclaimed from the ocean would harm the marine environment.
The Washington Post stated that Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos and outlined an alternate plan for closing the air station that involved accepting most of the 2006 plan.
Several Japanese media outlets reported Sunday that Okada admitted he met with Roos but denied he proposed accepting most of the 2006 agreement.
Hatoyama promised to reach a decision on an alternative site by the end of May.
"I do indeed have a plan in mind," he said earlier last week. "But we are still trying to convince the United States. I cannot relate to the local people a plan that the U.S. will not accept."
Sunday’s event had the support of Okinawa’s political spectrum. Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, an independent backed in the last election by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, shared the stage with the members of more left-leaning parties, including Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan.
It was the first time members of the LDP — the ruling party for more than 50 years before Hatoyama took office — attended an anti-base rally on Okinawa, according to the Stars and Stripes.
Just after Hatoyama took office in September, he initiated a review of a 2006 agreement with the U.S. to close Futenma and build a new airstrip for the Marine units on Camp Schwab and on reclaimed land in Oura Bay. The ministerial committee reviewing the plan scrapped the idea, and Hatoyama is studying alternatives.
He promised to come up with a plan acceptable to Okinawa, the U.S. and whatever community he selects to host the Marines by the end of May.