ITOMAN, Okinawa Pref. – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged Saturday to try and ease the burden on Okinawans, home to about 25 percent of the 100,000 U.S. troops in the Asian region.
Koizumi attended a gathering of some 6,000 people here to mark the 56th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, a series of skirmishes fought in the closing days of World War II that claimed more than 200,000 lives.
“About 75 percent of U.S. military bases are concentrated in Okinawa, imposing various burdens on locals,” Koizumi said. “Settlement of the problem is one of the key tasks of my administration. I will make efforts to relieve the pains of people in Okinawa.”
Koizumi said he will convey the feelings of Okinawans to U.S. President George W. Bush when he holds his first summit with the U.S. leader at Camp David on Saturday.
Those who attended Peace Memorial Park in Itoman offered a one-minute silent prayer from noon to commemorate the end of the fierce ground battle, the only one fought in Japan during the war.
The names of about 200 people who died in the battle have been newly inscribed since last year on the Cornerstone of Peace in the park, bringing to 238,161 the number of people — including U.S. and South Korean nationals — whose names are engraved at the memorial.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine addressed the crowd at a ceremony organized by the prefectural government, saying, “We will properly convey lessons from the miserable war to future generations without letting them fade away.”
A series of battles on Okinawa Island, about 1,500 km southwest of Tokyo, and surrounding islands in the prefecture are believed to have ended on June 23, 1945. The day is a public holiday in the prefecture.
The fighting left some Okinawan civilians with bitter memories and distrust of the Imperial Japanese Army, which allegedly slaughtered many locals to prevent landing U.S. soldiers from gathering intelligence.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, the head of U.S. forces in Okinawa, also attended the ceremony.
About 20 former leprosy patients living in state-run sanitariums in the prefecture attended the hourlong ceremony for the first time after a district court handed down a historic ruling in May ordering the government to compensate current and former leprosy patients for discriminative treatment.
Shortly before the ceremony, about 50 U.S. veterans and staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Naha gathered near the Cornerstone of Peace, where they were joined by Hailston.
Speaking near black granite tablets that carry the names of U.S. victims, Consul General Timothy Betts said Japan and the United States are responsible for preventing further wars.
Former marine John Foley, 74, from Florida, said reading the many names of the fallen on the memorial made him question if their sacrifices were necessary.
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