Tens of thousands of Japanese protesters oppose U.S. troops in Okinawa

A demonstrator takes part in a rally against the U.S. military presence in Naha in Japan's Okinawa prefecture on June 19, 2016.
(Toru Yamanaka / AFP/Getty Images)

Opposition to the U.S. military’s presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa drew tens of thousands of protesters to a rally Sunday, including some who demanded that all Marines must go.

Protesters carried signs objecting to the security agreement between Japan and the U.S. that places most American troops and bases on Okinawa. Many also wore black in memory of a local woman whose recent killing led to the arrest of a Marine veteran who was a civilian contractor.

Some placards read: “Our rage beyond the bounds,” and “Marines, get out.”

An estimated 65,000 people attended the rally, making it one of the largest such demonstrations in many years, officials said.

Participants called for a review of the security agreement and many expressed displeasure with plans to relocate a Marine air station to another part of the island.


The recent killing has rekindled memories of other cases involving U.S. servicemen over the decades, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three Americans in 1995, a number of robberies and a March incident in which a U.S. Navy sailor pleaded guilty to raping a woman he found asleep in the corridor of his hotel. Two weeks ago, a 21-year-old Navy petty officer second class was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after ramming her car into two vehicles while traveling the wrong way on the main highway that traverses the island.

“We’ve been enduring cruel treatment for more than 70 years,” said Jinshiro Motoyama of a national student group in addressing the demonstrators.

Other student group members stepped on the stage to introduce #OkinawaLivesMatter, modeled after the campaign protesting police shootings of African Americans.

Since the end of World War II, Okinawa has hosted a vast network of bases used by the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. Even though the island chain reverted to Japanese control in 1972, American military installations still take up one-fifth of the main island, and nearly three-quarters of the more than 50,000 Japan-based American troops and family members are stationed here.

In local elections two weeks ago, voters turned out in force for the anti-base candidates. So for the first time Okinawa’s governor commands a near two-thirds majority in the prefectural assembly that opposes relocating Futenma Air Base in densely populated south-central Okinawa by expanding Camp Schwab up north. And the newly elected assembly called for a review of Status of Forces Agreement to have U.S. servicemen subject to Japan’s judiciary system.

Sunday’s demonstration coincided with mounting maritime tensions between China and Japan. This month, Tokyo denounced Beijing after a Chinese frigate entered a contiguous zone just outside Japanese waters in the East China Sea near the disputed islands known as the Senkaku to the Japanese and Diaoyu to the Chinese.

Kyodo News service in Japan reported Sunday that government sources had warned that Self-Defense Force vessels may be deployed for security operations.

Okinawa would be on the geographical front line in any conflict over the islands, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

Law is a special correspondent.


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