Okinawans demand closure of U.S. bases

About one thousand protesters have marched in Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, in protest against the relocation of a controversial U.S. military base demanded the closure of all bases on the island.

The demonstration coincided with the 44th anniversary of the Okinawa turns from the U.S. rule to Japan.

Protesters held placards saying that they opposed the Japanese and U.S. plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the less-populated coastal region of Henoko, also on Okinawa Island.

In 1996 the Japanese and U.S. governments inked an accord to close down the Futenma base and return the land occupied by the facility to Okinawa, with the transfer of the base’s functions aimed partly at reducing the burden on Okinawa and its people.

The demonstrators marched close to the controversial base located in the densely-populated region of Ginowan, as well as close to sites that were associated with the bloody Battle of Okinawa in 1945, which was the U.S. only land assault on Japan during WWII and saw more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers and as many civilians killed during the hostilities.

The demonstrators, while calling for the closure of the Futenma base, also demanding the closure of all U.S. bases on their island.

Further more, they called for an end to war and for the scrapping of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe‘s “security plans.” The recent enacting of related bills could see Japanese troops deployed to active war theaters overseas for the first time since WWII and in blatant violation of the nation’s pacifist constitution.

Urging Abe to step down, a demonstrator said” He (Abe) has his own war agenda and does not reflect the feeling of Japanese people who love peace.”

The elderly lady, whose banner read: “Peace Not War,” said, “We Okinawans, more than anyone, know the devastation and brutality of war. Now is the time to stand up and say no to this dangerous war agenda.”

Similarly, a man in his 30s said “the central government was putting the lives of ordinary Japanese people at risk and called for the closure of all U.S. bases as well as the upholding of the constitution”.

“We’ve lived peacefully for 70 years because we have prioritized and cherished peace. If the government chooses a different path it would certainly force Japan into dangerous situations and none of us want to see history repeated,” he said.

“The constitution as it stands has guaranteed us peace for the past seven decades so why change it?” he continued. “As for the U.S. bases, we’ve been hosting them for long enough, it’s just time for them to be shut down or transferred overseas. The time is now,” he noted.

Okinawans have consistently called on both the prefectural and the central government to see their base-hosting burdens lifted and rallies at the site of the replacement facility in the coastal Henoko region as well as in Naha have become more frequent and more vociferous of late.

The rally followed similar demonstrations held a day earlier in Japan’s southernmost prefecture, also calling for the U.S. bases be permanently shut down, the land be returned and Abe’s war agenda be entirely abandoned.

Xinhua/Hauwa Mustapha