Okinawa rally could draw 100,000 people
GINOWAN, Okinawa — The U.S. military on Okinawa is advising Department of Defense personnel and their families to stay away from the village of Yomitan on Sunday, where a large anti-base rally is scheduled.
Organizers said Wednesday they expect 100,000 people to gather at the village sports complex for the 3 p.m. event. Among featured speakers will be elected officials and union leaders.
If the size of the crowd turns out to be as big as predicted, it will be the largest anti-base event on Okinawa since 58,000 people gathered in Ginowan in October 1995 to protest the abduction and gang rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor.
The crime sparked an anti-base movement that resulted in the U.S. and Japan agreeing the next year to return about 20 percent of the land used by the U.S. military on Okinawa. That agreement included closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma if an alternate location on the island could be found. Several relocation plans followed and were scrapped because of opposition by anti-base and environmental-protection groups.
Japan’s new left-center government is reviewing a 2006 agreement to close Futenma and move the Marines to a new air facility to be built at Camp Schwab on Okinawa. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he will settle on a proposed new location for Futenma operations by the end of May.
The rally, sponsored by Okinawa’s prefectural assembly, passed a unanimous resolution in February calling for the immediate closure of Futenma and moving Marine air units off Okinawa.
The rally is expected to tie up traffic in Yomitan, especially along the main access road, Highway 58, from Kadena Town to Onna Village.
Ed Gulick, spokesman for the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, said personnel also are being advised to stay away "as a precaution to avoid the potential for incidents with protesters."
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.