CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Several protests against U.S. military bases on Okinawa are scheduled this weekend to coincide with the 32nd anniversary of the island prefecture’s return to Japan.

The main protest rally is set for Sunday, when anti-base activists plan to encircle the Marine Corps Air Base at Futenma with a human chain, demanding the immediate closure of the base, which is in the center of urban Ginowan.

Opponents of the base say they are tired of waiting for a new airport to be built offshore. The bilateral Special Action Committee on Okinawa proposed in 1996 that Futenma be closed within seven years, once an alternative site was found for Marine air operations on the island.

But that selection of a site for the new air station was delayed by years of legal and political wrangling. Only recently did the Japan Defense facilities Administration’s Naha Bureau begin an environmental survey of the proposed constriction site. Completion still is a decade or more away, DFAB officials have said privately.

The ring-around-Futenma rally is to start at 2 p.m. Sunday and be followed by a speech at Ginowan’s city hall by Mayor Yoichi Iha, elected last year on an anti-base platform.

“We expect about 11,500 people to participate in the event,” said a member of the Okinawa Peace Activity Center, an event organizer. “We will form a human chain three times — at 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 2:50 p.m.”

Most of the protesters then are to attend a rally at the Ginowan Beach Park, he said.

Protesters have encircled the base twice before, in 1995 and 1998.

The Futenma encirclement will be the culmination of the 27th annual “5-15 Peace March,” named after the date the island reverted to Japanese control, May 15, 1972. About 10,000 people are expected to walk along three routes crisscrossing the island.

The march is to begin Friday morning with the southern leg starting in Naha, the western leg in Nago and the eastern trek beginning at Henoko, site of the planned new air station.

The east coast marchers are expected to pass the main gate to Camp Hansen along Highway 329 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Camp Courtney on Saturday morning and Kadena Air Base’s Gate 2 on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday they’re to march down Highway 330 past Camp Foster to MCAS Futenma.

The west coast marchers are scheduled to pass Torii Station on Saturday morning and the Kadena Air Base main gate, along Highway 58, Saturday afternoon. Sunday, they’re to walk by camps Lester and Foster along Highway 58, joining the other marchers at MCAS Futenma.

The southern marchers’ route does not pass any U.S. bases on its way to Futenma on Sunday.

A much smaller protest march is to be held in Urasoe on Saturday, in front of the Camp Kinser gates off Highway 58. That march is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., beginning with a short rally at the Okinawa National Theater and proceeding down the Camp Kinser fence line along an access road and Highway 58. About 80 protesters are expected, organizers said.

Marine officials have advised all status of forces agreement personnel to avoid the area during the time of the protest.

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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