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Opponents of the 2006 bilateral plan to realign U.S. forces in Japan were out in force Tuesday near Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in mainland Japan.

Taking advantage of a new left-center government in Tokyo that is at odds over the plan, about 800 protesters gathered at the Iwakuni Civic Hall against the planned move of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington’s air wing from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Iwakuni, city officials said.

Each protester held a plain placard bearing a large “X” to mark their opposition to the realignment plan.

The so-called “Roadmap to Realignment” calls for new facilities to be built at Iwakuni for Carrier Air Wing 5, a squadron of KC-130 aircraft, a shared civilian air terminal and about 5,000 new residents.

During Tuesday’s rally, Katsusuke Ihara, a former Iwakuni mayor, said he and other area officials have met with the country’s new defense and foreign ministers to press their case for a review of the realignment plan.

“Our voice certainly can reach to the government,” Ihara told the crowd, according to a spokesman for the rally organizers. “Now is the time for us to stand up to push the government to make a change.”

Other speakers included three Diet members from Kanagawa and Okinawa prefectures, which also host U.S. bases.

“While all the spotlight is being shed on Okinawa, we gathered to send our own message: ‘Don’t forget about Iwakuni,’ ” said Kazuhiko Hara, a spokesman for one of the organizers, Koshin Fujitani, the councilor of the Iwakuni branch of the Democratic Party of Japan.

“People in Iwakuni are not against having the military base, but they do not want further expansion of the military presence,” he said. “The rally was to send out our stand that the people of Iwakuni are against the move ... from Atsugi to Iwakuni.”


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