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Rally draws thousands protesting ‘copter crash

Date Posted: 2004-09-16

Thousands of Okinawans gathered at Okinawa International University Sunday to voice their concerns about the August 13th crash of a military helicopter in Ginowan.

Organizers say the rally was a huge success, with more than 30,000 attending. Police and others peg the actual number at 10,000, one-third that number. Military officials estimated the number slightly higher. The crowd gathered at the school’s athletic field, close to the site where the Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion went down a month earlier, bursting into flames minutes later.

Three military crew members were injured. No civilians on the ground suffered injuries, although there was property damage to about 26 homes..

Ginowan mayor Yoichi Iha spearheaded organizing the rally, which kicked off at 2:18pm, the exact time of the crash, with release of 200 white doves. The two-hour-long event included speeches, protests, chants and banner waving.

Iha called the crash a dangerous precedent, saying “with crash incident, Futenma has proven itself a deficient air base risking the lives of all residents and citizens.” He called for rallygoers to join forces in lobbying for new talks between Japan and the United States, and to expedite the closing of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

The Ginowan lobbying movement next goes to Tokyo next week to present its case to government officials. They plan to carry a petition with more than 50,000 signatures demanding the closing of Futenma, according to Iha.

The rally followed by one day a Ginowan Citizens Convention at the Okinawa International University. The convention focused on the crash events of Aug. 13th, and established a series of petition talking points for officials. They included demands for an accident investigation, reparations for damages caused by the helicopter crash, immediate stop to all flight activities over residential areas, stopping the use of Futenma as a heliport, and return of the Futenma base to Japanese control.

The convention also is asking for a thorough review of plans to relocate the Futenma facility in northern Okinawa at a site near Camp Schwab, and review of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa agreement. The group approved all of the items, and urged officials to present the letter both to Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

“This helicopter accident is our last warning of how dangerous Futenma Air Station is,” said Iha. “The danger will never go away, not even by transferring the air station to outside Camp Schwab.” Iha says he’ll keep asking the United States to close Futenma completely.

Governor blasted for ignoring protest rally

Among the prominent Okinawa figures missing from Sunday’s rally in Ginowan was Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine.

No prefecture officials attended the event, including the Governor. Inamine said “this convention was just for Ginowan City people. I had no reason to attend.” Prefecture Assembly Members didn’t attend, either.

Ginowan Mayor Youichi Iha said “without the Prefecture Governor’s attending, the convention’s efforts will not spread to all Okinawa Prefecture, and our voice will not reach faraway places.”

Government officials say the issue is confusing for Ginowan residents, because the real issues won’t be affected by the local rally. They say there will be no changes to the Japanese government decision to press forward with the new airport at Henoko, outside Camp Schwab.

MOFA, DFAB hear opposition demands

A day after the Sunday anti-American rally at Okinawa International University, Ginowan Mayor Youichi Iha led a protest delegation to Japan government agencies in Naha.

The group protesting the Aug. 13th American military helicopter crash in Ginowan wanted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Naha Defense Facilities Administration Bureau to hear their demands for early closing of the Futenma Base.

The delegation is seeking immediate closure of the Marine Corps facility, cancellation of all helicopter flight operations, review of the agreements governing the American military operations on Okinawa, and a reconsideration of plans to build a replacement airfield near Henoko, on the northern part of the island.

Iha calculates it will take at least 16 years to build the new airfield, and argues Futenma cannot stay operational until then. His figures include four years for surveys and environmental evaluations, nine years to do the ocean reclamation, followed by another two years to build the runways and complete the facility. Another year would be required to move the base.

Iha has more than 50,000 signatures joining his protest movement. Ambassador Sadaaki Numata accepted the petition.

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