3,000 rally against revision of Okinawa land lease law

About 3,000 unionists rallied late Apr. 2 in Tokyo to protest a planned legal revision that would enable the government to continue the forced use of land in Okinawa Prefecture for U.S. military installations after the land lease contracts expire in May.

Masakazu Yamamoto, deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party, promised the participants that the SDP will lead the fight against the government to prevent the land expropriation law from being revised. “The government is going to make the sudden amendment in a way that is against democracy. We should unite to not victimize Okinawans any more,” Yamamoto told participants. Yamamoto appeared on behalf of party leader Takako Doi, who was in Okinawa at the time.

The Cabinet is expected to decide this morning whether to submit a bill to the Diet for revising the 1952 land expropriation law governing the supply of land for U.S. troops in Japan. Several land lease contracts involving more than 3,000 owners of plots used by 12 U.S. military facilities in the island prefecture will expire May 14. “We should not allow the legal revision to happen as we are having the 50th anniversary of our pacifist Constitution on May 3, and the 25th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese control on May 15,” he said.

Although the SDP has so far maintained a cooperative relationship with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the Diet, party members are against working with the LDP on the revision because it runs counter to the SDP’s long-held antibase policy. Tsuyoshi Saito, head of the Democratic Party of Japan’s team on the issue, also promised participants that his party will make its best efforts to solve Okinawa-related issues. “The DPJ will urge the government to call on the U.S. to start bilateral talks to reduce the presence of the U.S. Marine Corps, which has been one of the top demands of Okinawans,” Saito said. Saito’s remark, however, invited heckling from some of the participants because the DPJ, the second-largest opposition party, has not reached an intraparty consensus about what to do about the proposed revision.

Yoshimasa Karimata, vice chairman of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, a body affiliated with labor unions, called for solidarity in not allowing a legal revision that will oblige Okinawa to host the U.S. military for another long period.

Hiroshi Minohara, one of the participants and a member of the Tosu Municipal Assembly in Saga Prefecture, told The Japan Times that the government should not hesitate to tell the U.S. that the Japanese people are not happy about having so many U.S. military bases in Okinawa and other places in Japan. “The government should say what it is supposed to say to the U.S. when representing us,” he said.

Following the gathering, the participants marched from Hibiya Park to the Diet building, chanting protests against the revision.