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17,000 form human chain around Futenma

Date Posted: 2010-05-21

Rain was no deterrent to an estimated 17,000 citizens who joined hands Sunday afternoon to encircle the eight-kilometer perimeter of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

The demonstrators were protesting plans for Futenma’s relocation in northern Okinawa. Organizers pegged the number of participants at 17,000, although police declined to make an estimate of the number. The demonstrators were vocal in calls for Futenma’s closure and return to Japanese hands. Mayors of the two cities most likely to be affected by the location shift for Futenma—Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha and Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine—lead the rally as it took place under foul weather conditions with rain and high gusty winds.

Sunday’s protest was the fifth human chain demonstration in Okinawa against the U.S. Marine base, which sits atop a hill, surrounded by tens of thousands of Ginowan residents. Futenma, which encompasses 4.92 square kilometers, is supposed to move to the Henoko district of Nago within the next few years in accordance with a pact made between Japan and the United States in May 2006. More than 90,000 Okinawans turned out last month to protest the relocation plans.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was in Okinawa earlier this month, appealing for Okinawans to continue hosting the American bases, apologizing as he did so. He had campaigned on a pledge to remove Futenma from Okinawa, but recanted several weeks ago, citing a better understanding and appreciation of the national security concerns involved.

He now is proposing the base plans go forward at Henoko, with a modification of the 2006 agreement that called for reclaimed land to be the site for two 2,500 meter long V-shape runways. Hatoyama is now calling for a single 1,500-meter long, piling-supported runway. Neither local citizens nor the United States Government are buying into that proposal. Hatoyama also wants to have part of Futenma’s aerial training missions accomplished at Tokunoshima, in south Kanagawa Prefecture, but the vast majority of citizens and the local leadership have told Hatoyama they want no part of having U.S. troops and aircraft on their island.

Mayor Iha was firm in his declaration “we make it clear to people in and out of Japan that the people of the prefecture are against the government’s attempt to change its stance and promote a relocation within the prefecture.” He says, “We want the government to stick to its stance of relocating Futenma at least outside of the prefecture, and negotiate with the United States.

Sunday’s demonstration came on the day that Okinawa reverted to Japanese control 38 years ago after being under U.S. administration since World War II. Futenma has some 2,000 Marines stationed there. Futenma was the site of a Marine Corps helicopter crash in August 2004 that injured only the crewmen, but Ginowan City residents have ramped up their demands since then that the base be closed.

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