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Thousands protest over US military bases in Japan for third day

Protesters in Okinawa, Japan held a huge rally on May 17 against the presence and expansion of U.S. airbases on the island in a third straight day of demonstrations.

The rally was against the expansion of Camp Schwab, a U.S. base in Henoko, Okinawa. Included in this expansion is the construction of a runway in the Oura Bay located towards the center of the island on its eastern coast.

Since the end of World War II, Okinawa, an island located about 400 miles south of mainland Japan, has been the site of numerous U.S. airbases and currently hosts more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. Protesters say that the expansion of Camp Schwab, which has been approved by the Japanese government, is another case of Okinawa being used for the geopolitical interests of the United States and mainland Japan.

“Okinawa accounts for 0.6 percent of Japanese land but 74 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan are in Okinawa,” Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago, where Camp Schwab is located, told ABC. “This has gone on for 70 years since the end of World War II and now we are going to stop it.”

Okinawa’s Gov. Takeshi Onaga also opposes the expansion of the U.S. military presence on the island and ran his election campaign on an overtly anti-airbase platform. He plans on visiting Washington, D.C., from May 31 to June 4 and voicing his concerns to U.S. government officials.

On May 15, the 43rd anniversary of Okinawa reverting from U.S. to Japanese rule, over 1,000 protesters marched in Henoko over the recent agreement between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to a less-densely populated area in Henoko. Okinawans see this as Japan’s mainland once again using Okinawa as a political pawn in relations with the United States.

“Even though the reversion was a result of the efforts of citizens, who had sought to live on an equal footing with the mainland, the current situation in Okinawa is not what they had wanted,” Onaga told the Asahi Shimbun.

On May 16, the second day of protests, over 2,500 protesters in Ginowan chanted and marched around the soon-to-be-closed Futenma airbase.

The day after that protest, more than 30,000 people assembled at Okinawa Cellular Stadium in Okinawa’s capital Naha, dressed in blue to symbolize the sea of Henoko and the Oura Bay. The organizers, who include politicians, labor leaders and members of the business community, vowed to send representatives to Tokyo later this month to deliver a resolution to Abe’s office.

Bitterness against U.S. military presence has historically stemmed from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Okinawa towards the end of World War II as well as the long history of sexual violence by U.S. soldiers against locals, including the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl. In 2004, a U.S. helicopter also crashed into the Okinawa International University. Protests against the airbases recently became more prolific and aggressive with Onaga’s election in November. Since then, Okinawans have become even more determined to assert themselves against the interests of the U.S. and Japanese government.

“No matter how long it might take, we will never give up our fight until the government gives it up,” Keiichi Takara, director of the Confederation of Trade Unions Okinawa, told Stars And Stripes. “Through the rally, we will reaffirm our resolved commitment.”