Support waning for anti-U.S. protest on Okinawa
Stars and Stripes March 12, 2008
CHATAN, Okinawa — Anti-base and women’s rights groups on Okinawa are having a difficult time getting support for a rally scheduled for Easter Sunday.
Although an executive committee representing six citizens’ groups was formed over the past weekend, they are finding the prefectural government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party — as well as smaller parties that have been quick to jump on the anti-U.S. bandwagon in the past — lukewarm to the idea of a mass rally to protest recent alleged crimes by U.S. servicemembers.
The idea for the rally came shortly after two U.S. servicemembers were identified as suspects in rape cases last month. Protesters gathered several hundred supporters for rallies outside gates to American bases in the following weeks, but participation sputtered after Japanese police dropped the case against a Marine staff sergeant who had been accused of raping a 14-year-old girl and have delayed a decision on whether to charge a soldier accused of raping a Filipina entertainment worker.
The Marine, Tyrone Hadnott, 38, is now being held by military police and faces possible action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The solider, who has not been named, also remains in military custody.
The rally committee met Saturday in Naha to discuss goals for the rally and decided to press for further consolidation of U.S. bases on Okinawa and a revision of the bilateral status of forces agreement.
“Our human rights have been threatened by incidents and accidents committed by U.S. soldiers, including violence against women, for more than 60 years after the war,” Haruko Odo, chairwoman of the Okinawa Women’s Association, one of the rally groups, said Saturday.
Organizers plan to hold the rally in Chatan, located near camps Lester and Foster and Kadena Air Base, because that’s where the alleged rape of the 14-year-old girl was said to have occurred the night of Feb. 10.
The charge against Hadnott was dropped by the Naha Public Prosecutor’s Office at the request of the girl’s family. During intense media coverage of the incident, the girl was blamed in some accounts for eagerly accepting a ride on Hadnott’s motorcycle after he met her outside an Okinawa City ice cream parlor.
Some Okinawans also questioned why the girl allowed Hadnott to take her to his house in Kitanakagusuku and then got into his car after he allegedly attempted to molest her.
Toshinobu Nakazato, the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly speaker was asked to lead the March 23 rally, but his ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its partner, Komeito, declined to sponsor it.
“After the girl dropped the complaint, asking everyone to leave her alone, we decided that it would be best to leave her in peace instead of making a commotion by holding a rally,” Toru Odo, an LDP member of the assembly’s Special Committee on Military Affairs, said Monday.
Vice Governor Zenki Nakazato said the alleged rapes, and several recent alcohol-fueled crimes in the weeks that followed, should not be weighed as heavily as the strategic importance of having U.S. bases on the island.
“It’s a leap of logic and impractical to link incidents such as this to opposition to the U.S. military bases,” Nakazato told Reuters, according to a prefectural spokesman. “If we think calmly, the bases are here for the sake of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the defense of Japan and the security of northeast Asia.”
Seigen Miyazato, a retired political science professor, said Okinawa officials are afraid to make waves now that money is pouring in from Tokyo as incentives to support the relocation of air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new air station to be built on Camp Schwab.
“The subsidies from the central government will be paid as piecework,” he said. “The prefectural and municipal governments need to support the military presence, or they will not get any money.”
He cited the situation at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni as a good example. The city of Iwakuni changed its opposition to the transfer of fighter aircraft from Naval Air Station Atsugi when Tokyo threatened to cut off incentives.
“Those who expect money from Tokyo do not want to conflict with Tokyo,” Miyazato said. He guessed fewer than 10,000 people would attend the Easter Sunday rally.
“But that number is not the only barometer to measure the degree of anger and frustration the people of Okinawa hold concerning the recent incidents or the present situation concerning the military bases,” he said.
“The resistance is growing,” Miyazato said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.