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G-8 Summit: Okinawa Site Could Undermine Proceedings

Aired July 20, 2000 - 1:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The meeting in Japan is a yearly gathering of the Group of Eight economic powers. Actually, it's seven economic powers plus Russia. The three-day summit is being held on the island of Okinawa, which is home to tens of thousands of U.S. troops. And today, tens of thousands of protesters.

The U.S. military presence there has long been a source of controversy and resentment, especially when troops are accused of attacking civilians. That happened most recently just a few weeks back. It is an unlikely backdrop for a prestigious international event.

But CNN's Marina Kamimura reports Okinawa wasn't picked by accident.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The late Japanese prime minister took a personal interest in Okinawa ever since his first trip to Japan's southern islands as a college student.

THOMAS FOLEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN: I think Prime Minister Obuchi wanted to give Okinawa an opportunity to have the attention of the world community and to help it advance itself economically.

KAMIMURA: Okinawa is Japan's poorest prefecture. As G-8 host, it's expected to benefit from nearly half-a-billion dollars in public spending over two years. But behind the economics is pure politics, especially in choosing the city of Nago to be the summit's main venue.

Although Okinawa makes up less than one percent of Japan's total area, it also hosts 75 percent of the U.S. military's facilities in Japan, a cornerstone of the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

(on camera): Despite local opposition, Tokyo and Okinawan authorities have already tapped remote Nago as the new home for one of this base's key functions. Relocating Futenma's (ph) heliport is considered the centerpiece of U.S.-Japan efforts to reduce the military's negative impact on local communities.

MASAHIDE OTA, FORMER OKINAWAN GOVERNOR: The site is used for removing the airbase, air station to the northern part of Okinawa. So Okinawa is used as a political pawn. KAMIMURA (voice-over): What no one anticipated, though, were the incidents just weeks before the summit, including the alleged fondling of a young teenager by a U.S. Marine. Tokyo and Washington have tried to stem the damage in the name of bilateral relations. But initial hopes that the first visit by a U.S. president to Okinawa since 1972 could strengthen ties, have changed to concerns that the visit could instead stir up more pent-up frustration.

Marina Kamimura, CNN, Okinawa, Japan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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