Japan says 25,000 took part in Osprey protest on Okinawa

People gather Sept. 9, 2012, for a rally against a planned U.S. deployment of Osprey aircraft in Ginowan, on the southern island of Okinawa, Japan. Thousands of people gathered to demand that a plan to deploy 12 MV-22 Osprey aircraft on the island be scrapped, saying they are unsafe. The U.S. plans to deploy them to replace older CH-46 helicopters.



CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — How many Okinawans rallied last Sunday against the planned deployment of U.S. Osprey aircraft to Japan?

Organizers claim 101,000 people protested the airplane-helicopter hybrid, a figure repeated by media around the world. But the only official tally released by the Japanese government indicates a much smaller gathering.

Japan’s Cabinet secretary said police estimated attendance at 25,000; Stars and Stripes reporters who covered the rally put the number at 30,000 to 50,000.

“I am aware that a mass rally was held on Sunday at a park in Ginowan calling for cancellation of a planned deployment of the Ospreys to Okinawa with a large number of participants, 101,000 people according to the organizers and 25,000 according to the police,” Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said in a video statement posted on the prime minister’s website.

Crowd estimates are often unreliable and can be deeply controversial when politics are involved. By any count, the anti-Osprey demonstration was one of the largest anti-U.S. military protests on Okinawa in recent years, underscoring the deep safety concerns over Marine Corps plans to field Ospreys at the Futenma air station following recent MV-22 crashes in Africa and Florida.

Underscoring the sensitivity of the issue, local, prefectural and national Japanese police declined to say this week whether an official tally existed.

The Marine Corps on Okinawa does not have an estimate because it does not monitor such events and will not comment on the size of the rally, spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Griesmer said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to meet next week with Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto in Tokyo to discuss lingering concerns in Japan over the aircraft’s safety.

The U.S. and Japan have agreed an April Osprey crash in Morocco that killed two Marines and a June crash in Florida that injured crew members were both caused by human errors, not mechanical problems.

Okinawans remain largely unconvinced of the aircraft’s safety. Another public protest was planned in the town of Haebaru on Friday and Nago city said it is planning a rally, though no date has been set.



Protesters hold a banner reading "Oppose a deployment of Osprey to Futenma Airfield" during a rally Sept. 9, 2012, held at a seaside park in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. Protesters oppose a U.S. plan to deploy 12 MV-22 Osprey aircraft on the island.