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Political leaders bow out of Sunday’s protest rally

Date Posted: 2008-03-21

Okinawa’s governor is giving the Sunday demonstration protesting crimes committed by American servicemen on Okinawa a pass.

Governor Hirokazu Nakaima will skip the rally in Chatan Town, which the 60 groups organizing the afternoon rally were hoping to be a vocal protest over GI’s behavior. “We have to think of the girl’s feelings and peace of mind,” says the governor, “and not make noise.” The chairman of the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly, Toshinobu Nakazato, has said “I am sorry. It will not be possible.” Nakazato had been asked to lead the rally as its chairman.

Okinawa Prefecture Assembly members say they’ll boycott the rally, as has the mayor of Kadena Town. Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi says “I am not going to attend this rally, because the victim (of a February alleged rape of a young teenage schoolgirl) has said ‘let me alone. Don’t bother me.’ If I think about her, I can’t attend this rally.” Urasoe City’s mayor, Mitsuo Gima, says he’s “not yet decided” whether to participate.

Rally organizers have appealed to mayors of central Okinawa municipalities, including Okinawa City, Uruma City, Nishihara and Chatan Towns, and Kitanakagusuku, Yomitan and Nakagusuku Villages, urging their participation. Okinawa’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has denounced the rally, saying they’ll have no part in it. The rally is organized by workers’ unions, teacher and other education groups, women’s groups and the Okinawa Peace Center.

Protesters have chosen a slogan for their Easter Sunday 2 p.m. demonstration. “Let’s Protest the Scandal and Accidents by Military Members Prefecture Rally” is the formal name, but executive committee members are reportedly frustrated by the lack of public support for their action.

Haruko Odo, one of the organizers, says “Our living and human rights have been threatened by these incidents and accidents committed by American soldiers. This violence against women has been happening for more than 60 years.” Odo is chairwoman of the Prefecture Women’s Association, one of the core groups sponsoring the rally.

The demonstration’s executive committee wants to take the protest even further, demanding the Japanese and U.S. governments rewrite the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries. The committee is also calling for a reduction in the number of troops and bases on Okinawa.

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