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Hundreds Of Okinawans Protest New U.S. Base Ahead Of Anniversary


Tokyo,  –  Hundreds of Okinawans took to the streets on Friday, urging Tokyo and Washington to stop the controversial construction of a new U.S. military base on the subtropical island.

Kyodo News agency reported that about 800 participants protested in Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture, ahead of Monday’s 45th anniversary of its reversion to Japanese sovereignty from U.S. occupation.

The group will then split in two for a pair of protest marches, one towards the U.S. bases, one towards World War II-era battlefields.

Inspite of massive local opposition, Japan and the U.S. agreed to build new facilities for U.S. forces in an environmentally sensitive area of northern Okinawa, known for dugongs and coral reefs.

Okinawa reverted to Japan in 1972, 20 years after the U.S. occupation ended in most parts of the country.

However, the island prefecture has continued to shoulder a disproportionate concentration of the U.S. military presence in the country.

“I feel strong anger about the fact that incidents and accidents related to the military bases happen one after another,” Naha Mayor Mikiko Shiroma said.

The 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen prompted massive protests against the U.S. military presence on the island, some 1,600 km south-west of Tokyo.

To ease the anger, Japan and the U.S. agreed to close the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in a densely populated area of Okinawa.

However, Washington demanded facilities on the island, which would take over the functions of Futenma.

In April, Japan began land reclamation works to build runways at the proposed site despite strong opposition from islanders and environmental groups.

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