NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – A massive rally is expected to be held in Okinawa to protest the latest crime by a U.S. base worker, organizers said Sunday, with the incident stoking the underlying resentment about the heavy U.S. military presence in the island prefecture.
The organizers — including local political parties, businesses and citizens’ groups opposed to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture — hope to make the rally, likely to be held next month, comparable to the one following the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in Okinawa by three U.S. servicemen.
Around 85,000 people were mobilized for that event in 1995. The rape triggered a wave of public outrage and was instrumental in pushing the governments of Japan and the United States to strike a deal in 1996 on the return of the Futenma site to Japanese control.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga is likely to attend the rally, where participants are set to adopt a resolution of protest for the Japanese and U.S. governments, the organizers said.
Misconduct by U.S. personnel has been a constant source of frustration and anger among Okinawa residents over the years.
Tensions have also been fueled by a standoff between the central and local governments over the planned Futenma relocation from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to a less populated area in Nago’s Henoko coastal district.
In the wake of Thursday’s arrest of Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 32-year-old former U.S. Marine, for allegedly dumping the body of Rina Shimabukuro, 20, an office worker from the city of Uruma, around 2,000 people protested Sunday in front of a marine base in central Okinawa and called for the removal of U.S. bases from the island prefecture.
“We can no longer endure this,” one protester said at the hastily organized rally by more than 30 groups in front of Camp Foster, which straddles Ginowan, Chatan and other municipalities, referring to Okinawa’s burden in hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan and crimes committed by U.S. service members and nonmilitary personnel in Okinawa.
After observing a moment of silence, Suzuyo Takazato, a representative of the Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, read a statement, saying, “We seek the withdrawal of all bases and forces to ensure that people in Okinawa can live in peace.”
Gathering near Camp Foster, which houses the office of the top U.S. military commander in Okinawa, throngs of protesters waved placards, with one saying, “Pull out all bases and forces!” Some angrily shouted, “Leave. Go home.”
Chiharu Yokota, a 33-year-old housewife from the prefectural capital of Naha, joined the protest with her family.
“I want the Japanese government to realize that the presence of the bases has trampled on women’s rights and caused this incident to occur,” she said.
Shinzato, who now works at the U.S. Kadena Air Base, has admitted to killing and raping Shimabukuro, investigative sources said Sunday. He allegedly detailed to police how he attacked her from behind with a rod.
The police are preparing to charge him with murder.
According to investigators, he admitted during questioning that he drove around for two to three hours looking for a woman to rape. He strangled and stabbed Shimabukuro before putting her body in a suitcase and transporting it in his car, according to the sources.