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5,200 voice opposition to Ospreys stationing here

Date Posted: 2012-06-22

Irritation and anger over American plans to station the MV-22 Osprey in Okinawa this summer boiled over Sunday as more than 5,000 citizens rallied at a seaside park to demand the two governments stop the deployments.

Led by Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, some 5,200 people protested the tilt-wing transport aircraft coming to Okinawa, citing its safety record and the additional noise pollution expected to come to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan. The protest came only days after the second Osprey crash in three months. A CV-22 Osprey crashed eight days ago at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, injuring five crew members aboard. An earlier Osprey accident in Morocco killed crew members.

“I urge an immediate halt to the plan to deploy the Osprey,” said Mayor Sakima, who told the crowd “the safety of which is in question, as Futenma sits next to private homes.” He vowed that “with two accidents occurring within three months, I will make efforts to prevent the deployment at all costs.” He took the first step toward fulfilling that pledge, accompanying Governor Hirokazu Nakaima to Tokyo two days ago to meet with Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba over the issue.

“Please don’t bring the Osprey into the City of Ginowan”, 15-year-old Miyabi Kyan, a high school student said to the crowd. She drew a hefty round of applause for her efforts. “It would be too late to do anything after an accident occurs,” the teenager said, referring to an August 2004 crash of a U.S. Marine Corps cargo helicopter at Okinawa International University adjacent to Futenma. He said “even if the U.S. forces are here to protect us in emergency situations, it’s meaningless if they threaten our peaceful everyday lives.”

Governor Hirokazu Nakaima did not participate in the rally, but sent a message assuring the community “The Okinawa Prefectural Government is opposed to the deployment, given the current situation where Tokyo has not given sufficient information about the safety” of the Osprey. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Osamu Fujimura, had said a few days earlier that Japan would not intervene in the planned deployment, despite Okinawa’s growing irritation over the aircraft deployments.

The U.S. is planning to bring the Osprey to Okinawa this summer to replace aging CH-46 helicopters now in use at Futenma. The Osprey’s vertical take off and landing capabilities with their tilt-rotors, provide increased capabilities for the Marines, but local officials are opposed. Fujimura has since revised his thoughts only somewhat, assuring Okinawa Monday that the government takes very seriously the island prefecture’s views.

Some reports say the government has decided to suspend procedures to deploy the MV-22 until details are provided on last week’s crash of A CV-22 Osprey in Florida. The CV-22 is a remodeled version of the MV-22. Speculation is that there will be delays, particularly after Yamaguchi Prefecture’s governor rejected plans for temporary deployments to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station prior to the aircraft being stationed at Futenma. Gov. Sekinari Nii has told Defense Minister Morimoto deployment is “shelved until the cause of the accident is fully investigated.” Iwakuni City has similarly withheld its approval.

Fujimura says Tokyo has asked the U.S. to investigate details of the crash as quickly as possible, adding “the Japanese government will take no further action unless details are shared.” Morimoto has met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, telling him “the accident is very regrettable, and I hope the United States will provide as much information as possible about the incident.”

Washington has indicated it stands behind the Osprey, and its safety record. “We’re confident in the aircraft and its capabilities,” says John Kirby, a deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, “and we look forward to discussing this issue with our Japanese counterparts.”

Kirby says deployment is still planned. “That is the intention and there’s been no change so far.” He promised the Pentagon will “completely and transparently” share investigation findings, emphasizing that “the Osprey has a very good safety record” in Afghanistan.

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