Thousands protest at Japanese US air base

Thousands of Japanese gathered in sweltering heat on the southern island of Okinawa yesterday to demand that a US Marine base be moved out of the region, days ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama.

The row over the re-siting of the Futenma air base threatens to stall a realignment of the 47,000 US military personnel in Japan and sour defence ties between the two countries, seen as key in a region home to a rising China and an unpredictable North Korea.

It could also prove a domestic headache for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose support ratings have slipped since his landslide election victory in August.

"Okinawa's future is for us, the Okinawan people to decide," Ginowan mayor Yoichi Iha told a supportive crowd which spilled out of an open-air theatre by the beach. "We cannot let America decide for us."

Organisers put the number of protesters at 21,000.

Under a 2006 US-Japan agreement, the Futenma Marine base in the centre of the city of Ginowan is set to be closed and replaced with a facility built partly on reclaimed land at Henoko, a remoter part of the island, by 2014.

The deal, which Washington wants to push through after years of what a military official called "painful" negotiations, is part of a wider plan to re-organise US troops and reduce the burden on Okinawa by moving up to 8,000 Marines to Guam.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged Japan to approve the plan ahead of Obama's visit, which is scheduled to start on November 12.

Hatoyama, who has vowed to build a more equal relationship with the United States, said in the run-up to his August election victory the base should be moved off the island.

That view was supported by 70 per cent of Okinawa residents in a poll published this month by the Mainichi newspaper.

"I think getting rid of Futenma would be a good starting point for the removal of all the US bases from Okinawa," said a 60-year-old woman at yesterday's protest, who gave her name only as Shinzato.

Okinawa, controlled by the United States until 1972, makes up only 0.6 per cent of Japan's land mass, but hosts about half the US troops in Japan. Those who live near the bases complain of noise, crime, pollution and accidents.

"It's such a wonderful place. It makes no sense to build it here," said Hiroshi Ashitomi, a long-time anti-base campaigner.

Environmentalists are anxious to protect marine life including coral and rare dugongs in nearby waters.

Others have different priorities.

"Nature is important, but the primary responsibility of a politician is to protect people's lives and property," said Kosuke Gushi, a regional assemblyman with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party that signed off on the plan while in government.

He and other backers of the existing plan, including Ginowan businessmen, say they are concerned re-opening the issue will mean an indefinite delay to the closure of Futenma, where a 2004 helicopter crash added to fears over safety.

Gushi also sees the row as potentially undermining Japan's US-dependent security policy, leaving the country vulnerable.

"If we can't provide the bases as we have pledged to do under the US-Japan security treaty, the Americans could pull out and say they are no longer responsible," Gushi said.

Hatoyama has said he needs time to review the existing base plan, but his Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa has more or less endorsed the current agreement.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: General Manager

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of global logisti...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager - £70,000 OTE

£35000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager (Vice President...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Marketing Executive i...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable