As Okinawa marks 47 years since reversion to Japan, protesters call for reduced U.S. base burden

Kyodo, JIJI

Protesters marched in Okinawa on Friday calling for a reduction in the burden faced by the prefecture that hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

Okinawa this week marked the 47th anniversary of its reversion to Japan from U.S. control amid ongoing controversy over the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture despite calls by local residents to move the base outside Okinawa.

The annual three-day Peace March was split into two routes. Some 900 people gathered in front of the gate of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab in the Henoko area of Nago, where Futenma is being relocated to, while another group started their march from the prefectural capital of Naha, organizers said.

“The construction is underway despite the result of the referendum. Do we really have democracy or local autonomy in this country?” former Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine told participants in front of the U.S. base, referring to the February poll in which over 70 percent opposed the landfill work off Henoko for the base relocation.

The two groups of protesters will join together Sunday and hold a rally in Ginowan, home to the Futenma base.

Okinawa was occupied by the United States after the end of World War II in 1945 and returned to Japan on May 15, 1972.

On Wednesday, Ginowan Mayor Masanori Matsugawa said during his visit to Washington that the United States should present a target year for the planned return of the land occupied by the current Futenma base.

Matsugawa made the request in talks with U.S. officials, including Ted Saeger, acting director of the State Department’s Japanese affairs office. The two sides agreed on the necessity to return the land.

The U.S. side re-emphasized its view that the relocation of the air station to Henoko is the only option.

As for the target year, the U.S. officials apologized for not being able to present a clear deadline. The schedule will be presented as soon as possible, they added.

Matsugawa visited the United States for the first time since he was elected Ginowan mayor in September last year with support from the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.