Thousands turn out in Tokyo for anti-Osprey rally

Representatives from Okinawa held a rally in central Tokyo Sunday opposing the deployment of the U.S. Marine Corps’ controversial MV-22 Osprey aircraft to the island prefecture.

The rally, held in Hibiya Park, brought together more than 4,000 people, including representatives from all 41 of Okinawa’s municipalities and other protesters.  The participants demanded the withdrawal of the dozen Ospreys deployed, and the cancellation of additional deployments planned for the odd-looking tilt-rotor transport, which takes off like a helicopter, flies like a plane and has a spotty safety record.

Another dozen Ospreys are slated for deployment to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station this year.  Discussions are now under way in Washington about sending a squadron of another version of the controversial Ospreys to Kadena Air Base.

After the rally, the protesters staged a march to the Ginza shopping district to denounce the heavy concentration of U.S. bases in Okinawa as “discrimination.”  The rally was organized by an Okinawa committee jointly led by Naha City mayor Takeshi Onaga, and Masaharu Kina, chairman of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly.

“Our fundamental human rights have been trampled on. Our anger has boiled over,” Onaga said. “Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe has said he will take back Japan, but is Okinawa included in it?”

Utako Mizuno, a 21-year-old university student from Naha, urged people from outside Okinawa to try to empathize with its residents and take action. Yuhei Mizoguchi, 21, from Hachioji in western Tokyo, recalled his visit last summer to Okinawa, where U.S. military planes are a common sight. “It is a problem not only for Okinawa but for the whole of Japan.”

A squadron of 12 Ospreys was deployed to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in October last year, despite heavy opposition from local leaders and residents, who are worried about the hybrid aircraft’s checkered safety record.

Some of the participants visited the prime minister’s official residence and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Monday to press their case.  Officials from Okinawa Prefecture Monday requested the withdrawal of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft from Futenma.

The request was put forward to central government officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, by municipal leaders from Okinawa such as Takeshi Onaga, mayor of Naha, the capital of the prefecture, and Susumu Inamine, mayor of Nago.
The deployment of the dangerous Osprey at the dangerous airbase is “nothing other than discrimination,” their petition said, referring to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma base in Ginowan.  In response, Abe said he would think about the issue from all perspectives and in terms of security.