National

Okinawa mourns victims on 74th anniversary of end to one of WWII's most bloody battles

Kyodo

Okinawa on Sunday marked the 74th year since the end of the major World War II ground battle that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 local residents, as well as Japanese and American military personnel.

The annual memorial service was held in the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of the final stage of the battle.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki made a “peace declaration,” in which he urged the central government to give up its plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the island prefecture.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also attended the ceremony, told reporters that he will promote the project, saying that the relocation “doesn’t mean a base will be added.”

Approximately 94,000 civilians, about a quarter of Okinawa’s population at that time, as well as over 94,000 Japanese soldiers and some 12,500 U.S. troops died in the ground conflict that ran from March through June 1945, according to the prefecture.

Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, wants to move the Futenma air base outside of the prefecture.

But the central government and the United States have already agreed to relocate the base from a crowded residential district in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

They have said the current plan is the “only solution” to eliminate the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

No court has ruled in favor of the prefecture in the legal battle launched against the central government by the late Takeshi Onaga, the predecessor of Tamaki and a staunch opponent of the relocation plan.

Tamaki oversaw a prefectural referendum in February on the transfer plan, which demonstrated the depth of local opposition to the base move. More than 70 percent of the voters rejected the plan, although the outcome was not legally binding.