NAGO, Japan: Angry Japanese protesters scuffled with police outside a US Marine base on Okinawa Friday ahead of a major weekend rally against the heavy American military presence on the southern island.
Under a scorching sun, about 30 demonstrators occupied part of a road outside Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa, obstructing trucks and cars leaving the facility for around 15 minutes before being forced to disperse.
Japanese policemen in navy blue pushed away the protesters — some of whom were lying on the floor — to let more than a dozen vehicles, some driven by US personnel in green uniforms, pass through.
Friday’s action came amid high tensions on the island two days before a major demonstration in the capital Naha against the US military. Tens of thousands are expected.
The demonstrators, a mostly elderly mix of Okinawans and supporters from other parts of Japan, chanted songs and held up placards reading “Don’t rape Okinawa,” “Close all bases” and “Marines out” as they condemned recent crimes linked to the US military and other base personnel.
They also called for the scrapping of plans by security allies the United States and Japanto build a new air facility off the coast from Camp Schwab so a Marine base in a heavily populated part of the island can be closed.
That controversial project is currently being held up by legal maneuvering, though Washington and Tokyo are vowing to press ahead.
“We have suffered for more than 70 years,” said Tomoyuki Kobashigawa, a 73-year-old retired Okinawan school teacher who joined the protest.
“We feel not only anger but also sadness,” Kobashigawa told Agence France-Presse, adding that the protesters are determined to see the removal of US bases from the island.
Okinawa was the site of a brutal World War II battle between Japan and the US but is now considered a strategic linchpin supporting their alliance.
The US occupied Okinawa for 27 years after the war ended, before it returned toJapanese control in 1972. Pacifist sentiment on the island, crowded with US bases, runs high.
More than half of the 47,000 American military personnel in Japan are stationed on Okinawa and rapes and other crimes by US service personnel have sparked major protests, drawing up to 100,000 people.
Earlier this month a former US Marine employed at the US Air Force’s sprawling Kadena Air Base was arrested for the alleged rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman.
“It’s not that we cannot live with American people, but we can never live with Americans staying here as military, which you see in Okinawa’s long history,” said Suzuyo Takazato, a female rights activist who participated in the demonstration. AFP