Tens of thousands of protestors have gathered on the Japanese island of Okinawa demanding the US military shut its bases following a rash of high-profile incidents -- including sexual assaults and murder -- involving service members that have made headlines in recent months. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity has dipped in the region because he favors relocation rather than removal of all US military personnel from Okinawa, as called for by the island's governor.
"Our anger is past its limit. Pull out the Marines."
-- Thousands of Japanese protestors gathered to demand the removal of US troops and bases occupying their country.
Tens of Thousands Protest US Bases in Okinawa Chosun News
KYODO, Okinawa (June 20, 2016) -- Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered on the Japanese island of Okinawa demanding the US military shut down its bases there following a rash of high-profile incidents involving service members that have made headlines in recent months.
Protesters at Sunday's rally want a plan to move a US base from one part of the island to another scrapped altogether. Dissatisfaction with the US military bases on the island has been brewing for years.
The US Navy said earlier this month it has banned its personnel in Japan from drinking and restricted off-base activities after a sailor in Okinawa was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Petty Officer Aimee Mejia was arrested after she allegedly drove on the wrong side of a freeway and crashed her car into two vehicles, slightly injuring two people.
Following the drunk driving episode, US sailors throughout the entire country were banned from drinking alcohol indefinitely.
Protesters raise placards reading "Anger was over the limit" during a rally against the US military presence and a series of crimes and other incidents involving US soldiers and base workers, at a park in the prefectoral capital on Japan's southern island of Okinawa on June 19, 2016.
The US Navy had already instituted a midnight curfew for sailors and banned off-base drinking after a former US Marine who worked on an American military base in Japan was arrested last month for alleged involvement in the disappearance of a Japanese woman police believe was raped and murdered.
The original plan to move the US base dates back to 1996 when the two countries agreed to close the Futenma air base located in a residential urban area after the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three US military personnel. That led to mass demonstrations, and the move has been on hold since as residents near the new less-populated location protest against potential noise, pollution and crime.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity has dipped in the region in part because he is in favor of the relocation rather than removing all US military personnel from Okinawa, as called for by the island's governor.
Okinawa was the site of some of the bloodiest fighting between the US and Japan during World War Two and was followed by a 27-year American occupation of the island.
Why was my daughter killed?
To avoid [another] victim, I want all US bases removed."
-- Father of young woman raped and murdered by US contractor and former Marine
OKINAWA (June 22, 2016) -- More than 60,000 demonstrators gathered on the southwestern Japanese island of Okinawa on Sunday to protest the presence of US military there.
The protest, the largest anti-American rally in over twenty years, was provoked by the murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman in April. A former US Marine, who worked as a civilian on a US base, was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering the local woman.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of demonstrators expressed their frustrations and demanded the closure of all US military bases on the island. They held placards reading, "Our anger is past its limit" and "Pull out the Marines." Thousands of protesters had also gathered outside Japan's parliament building in Tokyo.
The victim's father, who attended the rally, read out a letter aloud.
"Why my daughter? Why was my daughter killed?" the letter read. "To avoid [another] victim, I want all US bases removed . . . I believe it's possible if all the people of Okinawa come together," he said, according to CNN.
The Okinawa's governor, Takeshi Onaga, has said that he would urge the Japanese government to push all the US military bases out of Okinawa.
"The government should know that the anger of the people in Okinawa is almost reaching a limit and it is not (right) to sacrifice Okinawa people for military bases anymore," he said. Onaga was elected in November 2014 after running on an anti-base platform. He has since used every option -- including court cases -- to oppose a US-Japanese plan that calls for the relocatation of the US air station at Futenma to Henoko.
Anti-base sentiment flared last month, when Kenneth Franklin Gadson was arrested on suspicion of murdering the victim and abandoning her body. At the time of his arrest, Gadson was working as a civilian contractor at the Kadena Air Base, a major US military facility in Okinawa.
Tensions are running high between Okinawans and American military personnel after a series of violent incidents committed by American personnel who are based on the island.
In March, a US Navy sailor, Justin Castellanos, was arrested over the rape of a female tourist. In June, a drunk-driving incident involving another US sailor, moved the US Navy in Japan to ban alcohol consumption by US personnel.
President Barack Obama apologized to the locals for the murder during his visit to Japan in May.
"I think the Japanese people should know how deeply moved we are by what has happened and our intention to make sure that we're working with the Japanese government to not only prosecute this crime but to prevent crimes like this from happening again," Obama said during joint remarks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Sunday's protests marked new low for the US image in Okinawa. The protests will likely complicate the long-stalled plan to relocate Futenma air station. Locals have long argued that the base should be closed entirely, rather than moved to another part of Okinawa.
Okinawa, a Japanese island with high strategic value, hosts 74 percent of US military installations in Japan. The troops, who work and live on bases that cover almost a fifth of the island, are considered a key part of the US-Japan security alliance.
The US military presence goes back to the end of World War II, when Okinawa was a battleground between Japan and the United States before undergoing 27 years of US occupation.
About 1.4 million people live on Okinawa, alongside roughly 50,000 are Americans. The Okinawans are unhappy with the noise, crime, and congestion linked to the heavy US presence.
The last time Okinawa saw protests of this scale was in 1995, when a 12-year-old girl was abducted and raped by three US servicemen in Okinawa. The incident prompted mass protests and forced Tokyo and Washington to discuss reductions in the US military footprint on the island.
Roshni Kapur is an independent journalist based in Singapore.
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