CNN World News

Thousands rally against U.S. bases in Okinawa


October 21, 1995
Web posted at: 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT)

From Correspondent May Lee

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OKINAWA, Japan -- Tens of thousands took to the streets of Okinawa Saturday, brought out by outrage over the alleged rape of a 12-year-old girl by U.S. service members. But the prominent "us versus them" tone of the protest was strengthened by years of resentment over the U.S. military presence on the tropical island.

"We have been sacrificed by America and Japan before and after the war," one protester said.

A high school student pleaded for the governments of the two countries to "give us back the tranquillity of Okinawa, give us back the peaceful island without the military, without the tragedy."

The tragedy in question was the Sept. 4 rape of the 12-year-old girl. Three U.S. servicemen are scheduled to go to trial in the case on Nov. 7. Since the crime was made public, the pressure has been mounting to remove the 29,000 U.S. troops -- over half of the 44,000 based in Japan -- from the island.

U.S. troops have been stationed on Okinawa since the close of World War II -- in fact, the island was under U.S. control until 1972.

"The past 50 years Okinawa has been sacrificed," said Fuzuyo Takazato, an Okinawan activist. "There have been crimes committed, human rights violations and all around suffering. We don't want it anymore."

rally go home

Organizers said that 85,000 people participated in Saturday's protest; police estimated 60,000. Either count made the demonstration the largest anti-U.S. military protest ever held on Okinawa. A similar march held five years ago drew 25,000 people.

Both the U.S. and Japanese governments are hearing requests to reverse the security treaty that permits the troops on the island, but concrete results have not materialized.

Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota, a strong supporter of U.S. troops, has, however, forced top leaders of both countries to sit up and take notice. Ota is refusing to cooperate with the government of Japan in forcing unwilling land owners to rent their property located within base sites to U.S. forces.

"We can't go on like this anymore," Ota said at Saturday's rally. "That's why I said I will not sign the land leases."

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About 75 percent of U.S. bases in Japan are on Okinawa, which accounts for just over half a percent of all Japanese land. U.S. bases count for over a fifth of the island.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama has admitted that Governor Ota's refusal to sign the leases and the growing demands for troop removal on the island are by far the biggest hurdles his administration faces. He has promised to do all he can to satisfy both the Okinawans and the U.S. But with such overwhelming dissatisfaction, many say that it will be next to impossible.

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