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Thousands demand US military exit from Japan’s Okinawa

Protesters express frustrations with US presence on island after a former Marine allegedly raped and killed a woman.

Japan’s Okinawa

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied on the Japanese island of Okinawa, protesting against the heavy US military presence and violent crimes by American personnel there.

Gathered on Sunday afternoon, protesters expressed their frustrations with the US after a former Marine employed as a civilian base worker allegedly raped and murdered a 20-year-old local woman in April.

The case has intensified long-standing opposition to the military bases, a key part of the US-Japan security alliance, on the island popular with tourists.

The rally also called for the scrapping of plans by Washington and Tokyo to move a major US Marine facility in the centre of the island to pristine waters off the northern coast.

Okinawa's governor, Takeshi Onaga, who was expected to attend the rally, opposes the plan and instead wants Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which sits in the middle of a crowded city, to be moved off the island altogether.

He has revoked approval for work on the facility, in a setback to the plan, despite the fact that Washington and Tokyo vow to push forward.

The roots of the presence goes back to the end of World War II when Okinawa was the site of a battle between Japan and the US, followed by a 27-year US occupation.   

High-profile crimes have sparked large-scale protest rallies before on Okinawa, now considered a strategic linchpin supporting the US-Japan alliance, but where pacifist sentiment runs high.

In 1995, tens of thousands rallied following the rape by three American personnel of a 12-year-old girl. The protests prompted Washington to pledge to reduce the US footprint on the fortified island.

Nearly 100,000 people joined a protest in 2010 against the construction of the new base off the northern coast.

US officials have grown increasingly concerned that the behaviour of its troops on the island could jeopardise support among Japanese for the security relationship.

Washington have imposed restrictions including on off-base alcohol consumption after an intoxicated sailor injured two locals while driving this month.


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