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Protests in Okinawa against US air base

media Protesters in Yomitan village, Okinawa, holding signs saying 'Futenma airbase … Reuters

Tens of thousands of people rallied on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa Sunday to protest a US air base there. The prefecture’s governor as well as most of the mayors took part, asking the Prime Minister to make good on his promise to move the Futema Marine Corps Air Station off the island.

Demonstrators gathered at Kadena Air Base, the US military’s largest military facility in the Asia-Pacific region, holding yellow banners with messages protesting against the US military presence in Okinawa, a legacy of Japan’s defeat in the Second World War.

"Okinawa has suffered the overwhelmingly heavy burden of US bases since the end of the war," said Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima at the rally. "Today, there are few traces of the war in Okinawa, but US bases still remain in front of us. This is so unfair."

Also in attendance at the rally were the speaker of the Okinawa assembly and most the mayors of the island’s 41 towns. Islanders complain of noise, pollution and problems with soldiers from the 30 or so US military facilities on the island.

Protesters Sunday were particularly angry about the Futema Marine Corps Air Station, which under a 2006 deal was to be moved from the crowded city of Ginowan to the island’s quieter coastal Henoko area.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he would review the deal and consider moving it completely off the island.

But moving it off Okinawa could threaten his relationship with the US, which since Hatoyama was elected in September has insisted on staying with the original relocation plan.

Hatoyama has set himself a deadline of late May to resolve the issue

The US established the base in 1945 after occupying Okinawa, which it did not return to Japan until 1972.

The majority of US military facilities in Japan on are on Okinawa, which is located strategically near China, Taiwan and the Korean peninsula.

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