Anti-war protesters start 3-day march to Okinawa military bases
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 16, 2014
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japanese anti-war protesters will converge on U.S. and Japanese military installations this weekend to mark the 42nd anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion from American control back to Japan.
Organizers expect upwards of 3,000 protesters from across Japan to attend the annual three-day protest march, which began Friday morning at Henoko, site of a controversial runway expansion to support air operations that are scheduled to move from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab.
Camp Hansen and Torii Station were on the march route Friday, followed by Camp Courtney, Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster on Saturday. The rally will culminate with protesters encircling Futenma on Sunday and holding a rally at Ginowan Beachside Park.
The rally, dubbed Peace Action 2014, is being held to protest the runway project, according to organizer Satoru Oshiro of the Okinawa Peace Activity Center. Drilling surveys are expected to start next month with actual construction planned for later this year.
“Besides a new Self-Defense Force base being built in Yonaguni, military bases — both U.S. military and the Self-Defense forces — are being fortified, changing Japan to a country that can wage war,” Oshiro said. “We must stop this current at all costs.”
Oshiro’s comments came Wednesday, a day before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a nationally televised plea to revisit Japan’s pacifist constitution so the country could defend its allies in combat.
Oshiro criticized the Tokyo government for ignoring the voices of Okinawans.
Marine Corps officials in Okinawa advised SOFA status personnel to avoid the protests if possible.
“The Marine Corps understands that the local police departments and other government of Japan officials have taken necessary measures to provide access to Marine Corps facilities and areas in Okinawa,” Marine officials said in a statement to Stars and Stripes. “We look forward to their continued cooperation and support to ensure public safety.”
The protest march will also be stopping at Japanese Self-Defense bases, Okinawa City Hall and sites from Japan’s imperial past, like Peace Prayer Park in Itoman and the Imperial Army’s underground headquarters site in Haebaru.
Japanese anti-war protesters complete a march around Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, ending at a park outside the base's main gate, May 18, 2014. The march, part of Peace Action 2014, hit bases across Okinawa, including Torii Station, Kadena Air Base, and Camps Schwab, Hansen and Courtney.
LISA TOURTELOT/STARS AND STRIPES