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Futenma protesters form human chain at airbase

Date Posted: 2005-05-19

Peace activists marched through the streets of Ginowan Sunday, demanding Futenma Marine Corps Air Station be closed immediately.

Thousands of protesters formed a human chain around parts of the base during the event held on the 33rd anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese control in 1972. Organizers say 24,000 demonstrators from both Okinawa and mainland Japan participated, although local police officials dispute the number. One officer told reporters the actual number was closer to 2,500-3,000.

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha continued his hard line attacks against the U.S., demanding "We want the base to be relocated overseas.” Iha, who has made the base closure issue a cornerstone of his administration, despite his own city council’s refusal to grant funding for continued protests, says "Relocating it to Henoko is not feasible and does not lead to a solution.”

Organizers claim their marchers held hands as they encompassed the entire 11-km circumference of the base, and say their numbers were stronger than during similar events in 1995, 1998 and 2003.

An agreement in 1996 called for closing Futenma within 5-7 years of a new airbase being built as a replacement. Henoko, near Nago and Camp Schwab, was selected and pre-construction drilling and tests begun over a year ago. They’ve become mired in conflict over environmental and political issues. Officials say completion of a new airport is at least a decade away, and then only if the protests stop and construction can move forward.

The crash of a Marine Corps helicopter based at Futenma last August refueled protester demands the base be closed and functions shifted elsewhere. There were no fatalities in the crash on the Okinawa International University Campus in Ginowan, adjacent to the air station, but three helicopter crewmen were injured.

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