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Mayors unite in anti-missile protest

Date Posted: 2006-10-27

The turnout for a protest against Patriot missiles deployment to Okinawa was smaller than expected, but vocally fueled by mayors whose constituents surround Kadena Air Base.

“If the missiles protect our life, why doesn’t America put them outside the Prime Minister’s house, not Okinawa,” is how Kitanakagusuku mayor Kunio Arakaki put it. He told the protesters, many of whom don’t even know what the PAC-3 system is, that Okinawa doesn’t need the missile defense system.

Organizers for the Saturday march outside Kadena’s Gate 2 had expected more than 3,000 protesters to show up, but the number was significantly smaller. Police described the number as well under 1,000, while organizers claimed 1,000 actually took part in the demonstration, shouting “we don’t need missiles.” The gate to the sprawling U.S. Kadena Air Base was closed during the protest rally.

Mitsuko Tomon, Okinawa City’s mayor, charged “We don’t get any phone calls even from our military side, or from the prefecture. Without saying anything, the PAC-3’s were deployed to Kadena Air Base.” Tomon, representing a coalition of socialist parties, was elected a few months ago. She insists “I have a responsibility to protect Okinawa Citizens’ lives, and I must say I’m against the missile array.”

Youichi Iha, who has taken a staunch anti-American position against bases on Okinawa and in his Ginowan City, insists the “PAC-3 array makes East Asian people nervous, and will cause a peaceful day to become a war day. We are afraid that it will bring war again to Okinawa.” He reiterated his belief that “without American military’s departure from Okinawa, there is no peace.”

Tsuguyuki Sakiyama, who organized the peace march, says “Okinawa’s military authority doesn’t go to reducing military tensions, but makes things more heavy to Okinawa. We have to say to American and the Japanese governments that we don’t want to become a target of missiles.” He drew attention to North Korea’s recent nuclear test, and echoed again his belief “missiles shouldn’t be brought to Okinawa.

The Japanese government response was quiet, noting that the Patriot missiles are also being deployed to Saitama Prefecture on mainland Japan as well. The 24 missiles now in Okinawa are to be partially in position by the end of December, with full operational status by April. The missile batteries are manned by 500 U.S. Army personnel from Fort Bliss, Texas.

The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles are designed to shoot down inbound missiles as they approach about 12 kilometers from the target. Both American and Japanese officials say the missiles are purely of a defensive nature, designed to protect Okinawa.

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