• Kyodo

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Okinawa International University launched a balloon Wednesday from its campus to protest the crash of a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter in August 2004 that damaged its main building.

The tethered red and white balloon, measuring 2.5 meters in diameter and floating 60 meters in the air, bears a banner reading: “No Fly Zone.” The balloon will stay aloft until Tuesday, the university said.

The Naha Regional Defense Facilities Administration Bureau had urged the university, situated next to the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, not to float the balloon because it would pose a danger to flights in and out of the air station.

But the university went ahead anyway, saying it wasn’t illegal.

A U.S. CH-53D helicopter crashed on the university’s campus on Aug. 13 last year, injuring three of its crew.

Ever since the accident, however, the university has demanded that the United States terminate flights at the air station and close the facility, citing safety concerns. The base is located in what is now the center of a residential area in downtown Ginowan.

The U.S. Marine Corps deployed three more helicopters to the air station in May. This has caused more anxiety among students and nearby residents, the university claimed.

Okinawa International University President Tomoaki Toguchi issued a written statement Wednesday saying, “The university urges the Japanese government and the U.S. military to solve the issue so that similar incidents would not happen again and to secure the educational and academic environment on campus and the safety of the local residents as well.”

The accident added fuel to already simmering tensions between U.S. forces and residents of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of the U.S. military installations in Japan.

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