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Tens of thousands are gathering for the removal of the US base from the Japanese island



Tens of thousands of protesters in Okinawa vowed to stop the planned relocation of a US military base and said they wanted it off the southern Japanese island.

Opponents of the relocation say the plan to relocate US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded neighborhood to a less populated coastal town would not only be an environmental debacle, but also ignored local desires to remove the base.

Around 70,000 people gathered in a park in Naha capital on Saturday in the pouring rain of an approaching typhoon, watching a moment of silence for the governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, who died of cancer on Wednesday.

Onaga, who was elected in 201

4, had led opposition to the resettlement and criticized the central government for ignoring Okinawan's voices. He has filed lawsuits against the central government, saying he plans to revoke a landfill permit issued by his predecessor for the construction of the new base.

Deputy Governor Kiichiro Jahana, who represented Onaga at the rally on Saturday, said he would follow through the revocation process, as instructed by the governor, and follow his "strong determination and passion."

Okinawans attempt to block the government's plan to dump soil in Henoko Bay within days to base a landfill for the new Futenma site. Environmental groups say that building in the bay puts corals and endangered dugongs at risk.

The protesters held up signs saying, "Henoko new base, NO!" and "Okinawans will not give up" as they chanted slogans. They also passed a resolution calling on the central government to immediately abolish the resettlement plan.

The Japanese government says the current plan is the only solution, but many Okinawans want the base off the island. About half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are based in Okinawa.

Onaga had said that Tokyo's post-war defense under the Japanese-American Security Alliance had been built on Okinawa's sacrifice.

The dispute over the relocation of Futenma reflects centuries of tensions between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland, which annexed the islands, formerly the independent kingdom of Ryuku, in 1878. Okinawa was Japan's only homeland battlefield in the last days of World War II, and the island remained under US rule for 20 years longer than the rest of Japan.

Okinawa is still forced to sacrifice for mainland interests, said Onaga's son Takeharu, an Okinawa assembly leader.

"The (relocation problem) is being pushed to Okinawa because no one wants to go to the mainland," he said, urging the rest of the country to ponder the issue as well. "Let's keep fighting so that we can reach my father's unfinished goal and give him good news."


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