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Rare U.S. warship visit to Miyako Island port draws protests

Date Posted: 2010-09-23

For only the third time since Okinawa’s return to Japan decades ago, an American Navy vessel has entered a local civilian port.

The Tuesday port call at Hirara Port in Miyakojima Island by the U.S. Navy mine countermeasure ship USS Defender was only the third such visit since 1972. U.S. officials say the stop in Miyako was aimed at deepening friendship between the U.S. and Japan. The port visit was made despite calls from protesters that the ship visit be cancelled. Many Okinawans who objected to the visit had urged the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate Naha to cancel the visit, arguing that the military should refrain from using civilian port facilities except in cases of emergencies.

Some 40 protesters carried banners saying “Don’t enter the port” and “we won’t allow any military use of Miyakojima” as they rallied against the 1,312-ton vessel’s four-day visit. The USS Defender is based at Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island. U.S. Consul General Raymond Greene, speaking from the Naha Consulate, denied any connection between the port visit and the Japanese holding of a Chinese fishing trawler captain after an incident in the disputed Senkaku islands close to Miyakojima.

The Miyako visit was a first for the USS Defender. Such visits are permissible under the Status of Forces Agreement.

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