NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – A crowd of about 3,000 marched through the streets near a contentious U.S. Marine base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sunday to protest its use of the Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.
They also protested the long-stalled plan to keep Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, and a spate of recent incidents involving U.S. servicemen that has rekindled local anger against U.S. troops there.
Residents and supporters were seen demonstrating near the main gate of the base, with some demanding that the controversial MV-22 Osprey and the U.S. military leave Okinawa.
The Marine Corps started conducting Osprey training flights shortly after a dozen of the helicopter-airplane hybrids were deployed there in October.
Tomoyuki Kobashikawa, who came down from Uruma to protest, recalled when a U.S. F-100 super sabre crashed at Miyamori Elementary School in 1959, killing 17 people. The school was near his home.
“An accident will certainly happen if the Ospreys continue to fly for five or 10 years,” the 70-year-old said. “Before that happens, the aircraft must be pulled out.”
Eijun Maedomari, a 70-year-old resident of Urasoe, expressed concern about the government being led again by the Liberal Democratic Party, which advocated keeping the Futenma base in the prefecture.
Residents have been clamoring for the base to be kicked out of Okinawa, an island prefecture that hosts about 74 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan in terms of land almost 40 years since it was returned following the U.S. Occupation.
But the central government continues to support the plan to transfer the base from crowded Ginowan to the less-populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago, also in Okinawa, in line with the base accord it signed with the United States several years ago.