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Prime Minister promises to ease US bases burden

Date Posted: 2008-06-26

Japan’s Prime Minister has made a promise to the people of Okinawa that he’ll “reduce the burden on Okinawa’, a reference to slashing the number of American troops and bases on the island.

Speaking at memorial ceremonies remembering the Battle of Okinawa fought 63 years ago before ending June 23, 1945, Yasuo Fukuda told a gathered crowd of more than 5,000 he’ll “do my utmost, by carefully listening to heartfelt voices.” Fukuda promised to make his “best effort to realize an affluent livelihood for the Okinawan people”, renewing his pledge to restructure the American military presence on Okinawa, which hosts more than half the foreign troops on Japanese soil.

“Okinawa is still home to the nation’s largest concentration of U.S. bases,” echoed Okinawa’s governor at the Monday ceremonies, noting “prefecture citizens have been troubled by incidents, accidents and noise pollution stemming from the bases, and are forced to shoulder a burden residents cannot accept today.” Governor Hirokazu made the statement while reading a peace declaration before the 5,440 ceremony guests, which included families of the war dead.

The ceremonies at the Cornerstone of Peace memorial inside Peace Memorial Park in Itoman included the addition of 128 names of war dead to the stone monument. An American and 12 Koreans were inscribed onto the monument. A total of 94,136 Japanese soldiers, 12,520 American GI’s and 94,000 Okinawa residents died during the three-month battle April through June 1945, although civilian casualty estimates range as high as 120,000~160,000.

The 83-day battle, called by some the “typhoon of steel” because of the intense American bombardment of the island, ended on a note today steeped in controversy; Japanese soldiers have been accused of forcing Okinawans to commit mass suicide rather than be captured by American troops.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yohei Kono, and House of Councilors President Satsuki Eda joined Nakaima and Fukuda at the ceremonies at the Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, setting for a major battle, in southern Okinawa. Nakaima spoke out at the ceremonies, calling on attendees to teach younger people the truth about the Battle of Okinawa. “Accurately passing on the memories of war,” he said, “and continuing to reiterate our resolve not to make war again, are the principles that are Okinawa’s foundation.”

Governor Nakaima again called on both the U.S. and Japanese governments to consolidate bases on Okinawa, and reduce others, to lessen Okinawa’s burden in a “visible” way. Troops have been stationed here since World War II, after which Japan renounced its right to conduct war.

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