Tens of thousands of people gathered in sweltering heat on Japan’s Okinawa Island on Sunday June 19, crowing in the biggest demonstrations in two decades against U.S. military bases, after an American was arrested on the grounds of murdering a local woman.
This protest threatens plans to move the U.S. Marines Futenma air station to a less populous part of the island. As for its organizers, they said that 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 whose granddaughter is the same age as the 20-year-old murdered woman, Rina Shimabukuro.
In 1996, Japan and USA agreed to close Futenma, located in a residential area, following the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. military personnel spurred mass demonstrations.
That plan has been on hold since residents near the suggested relocation site do not approve the move, worrying about noise, pollution and crime. Okinawa assembly members won a majority against the move in the prefectural assembly election this month, which provided support for Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga’s plan to have the base move somewhere else.
Okinawa hosts 50,000 U.S. nationals, including 30,000 military personnel and civilian contractors.
The site of some of the bloodiest fighting between the U.S. and Japan in World War Two, Okinawa remained under American occupation until 1972 and around a fifth of it is still under U.S. military control.