YOMITAN, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) An estimated 90,000 people in Okinawa joined local politicians in a massive rally here Sunday to call for the removal of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and vent their anger against the central government for dragging the issue out.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima took the podium to urge the central government to move Futenma air station out of the prefecture.
“Some Cabinet ministers have indicated their tolerance for the possibility of Futenma airfield remaining as it is, but I say absolutely no to that,” Nakaima said. “I want the prime minister to never give up and to honor his pledge.”
Before his Democratic Party of Japan came to power in September, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised the people of Okinawa he would try to transfer the airfield out of the prefecture or even abroad.
Under a 2006 bilateral accord, the heliport functions of the Futenma base are to be transferred from densely populated Ginowan to a coastal zone in the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab in Nago, also in Okinawa, by 2014.
Hatoyama has vowed to settle the issue, which has strained U.S.-Japan ties, by the end of next month.
Nakaima said the burden of hosting U.S. military bases in Okinawa has exceeded the capacity of the residents, and asked people in other parts of Japan to “lend a helping hand” to spread the responsibilities.
“This is not a problem that only concerns Okinawans. The safety of each Japanese individual is connected to Okinawa,” the governor said, making a reference to the Japan-U.S. security treaty.
The island prefecture hosts about 75 percent of the total land used by U.S. military facilities in Japan and half of the 50,000 U.S. service personnel in the country.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada had indicated Japan would broadly accept the plan to transfer Futenma to Nago, although both Hatoyama and Okada immediately issued denials.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine blasted the government for repeatedly suggesting contradictory policies for handling the Futenma issue.
“Such an erratic and unscrupulous manner ridicules Okinawans and we can never forgive that,” Inamine said, referring to the Washington Post report.
Most of the mayors of the 41 municipal governments in the prefecture, which has a population of around 1.4 million, attended the rally. All of the major political parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party, saw themselves being represented for the first time at an antibase rally in Okinawa.
The LDP, defeated by the DPJ in last year’s general election, was in power when the 2006 pact was reached.
A resolution presented at the rally called for the early closure of Futenma and the return of the land it occupies. It also called for a slogan demanding the revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and measures to boost the local economy.
“To save the life, property and living environment of citizens, we Okinawans urge both the Japanese and U.S. governments to give up on the relocation of Futenma airfield within the prefecture,” the resolution said.