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Okinawans Rally in Opposition to US Military Bases


Thousands of people have rallied Sunday on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to express continuing opposition to the presence of U.S. military bases there. The event was held just weeks before a base realignment plan, negotiated by Japan and the United States, is to be finalized.

Okinawans on Sunday expressed their feelings about the U.S. military presence here through music, rather than marches.

After singing two anti-war songs, the veteran activist musician-politicianShokichi Kina, who represents Okinawa in the Upper House of Parliament, again took the stage to criticize both Washington and Tokyo for their failure to remove the U.S. military presence from the island.

Kina, of the opposition Democratic Party, says it is time for Okinawa to once again be independent of Japan.

Okinawa was once known as the independent Ryukyu kingdom. After centuries of prosperity, it came under Japanese control in 1872 and passed into American hands at the end of World War II. The United States returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972.

Okinawans complain their wishes are being ignored. Okinawa makes up less than one percent of Japan's land mass but hosts the bulk of the U.S. forces in Japan - both in size and number of personnel.

There are some 25,000 American military personnel assigned to Okinawa at numerous Marine camps, Naval bases and smaller facilities as part of the U.S. commitment of a bilateral alliance to defend Japan.

Okinawans want U.S. military personnel to leave, citing crimes committed by U.S. troops, aircraft noise and the potential danger from crashes of helicopters and jets.

The military presence has long been a sensitive subject on Okinawa, where one in three civilians perished in World War II, many caught in the crossfire between the American and Japanese armies.

Speaking at Sunday's rally, a former Okinawa city bureaucrat, Teruko Kuwae, demanded that the central Japanese government pay more attention to the requests of residents.

Kuwae says Japan is slavish in paying heed to the desires of President Bush and the United States, but it is harsh when it comes to its treatment of Okinawa.

U.S. and Japanese officials say they will announce at the end of this month that some seven thousand U.S. Marines will move from Okinawa to Guam, an American island territory in the western Pacific. But Okinawans complain that falls far short of the type of significant reduction they have long demanded.

Organizers of Sunday's rally say 35,000 people attended. The number appeared to be far short of that despite the fine weather and far lower than had been expected. That could be a sign that Japan's central government will face less resistance to the base realignment plan from the public than some Okinawan politicians and activists predict.

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