U.S. air base surrounded by human chain of protesters

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

NAHA — About 17,000 people formed a human chain around Futenma air station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sunday, calling for the return of the land used by the U.S. Marine Corps facility and protesting plans to move its operations elsewhere in the prefecture.

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha and Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine were among those braving strong winds and rain for the demonstration and read out a joint statement calling on the central government to give up on its plans to move it to the Henoko district in Nago.

The chain protest was the fifth aimed at the unpopular U.S. base since 1995 and the first since 2005.

The base, situated in a crowded area of Ginowan, is drawing increasingly vocal complaints about the constant noise created by its aircraft and higher crime linked to troops in the area.

A demonstration on April 25 drew about 90,000 residents and politicians who protested its continued presence in the island prefecture.

In Sunday’s protest, the demonstrators, many dressed in ponchos for the rainy weather, lined up along barbed-wire fences and streets on the base’s perimeter to raise their linked arms and shout slogans, including “We are against moving the base inside our prefecture.”

The demonstration was timed to coincide with Saturday’s celebration of the anniversary of Okinawa’s return from U.S. to Japanese control in 1972.

Japan and the U.S. agreed in 2006 to relocate the base’s heliport functions from Ginowan to a coastal area off Nago.