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Massive Protest on Okinawa Opposes US Military After Killing, Demand Bases Be Closed

Massive Protest on Okinawa Opposes US Military After Killing, Demand Bases Be Closed

yuri kageyama | associated press

Tens of thousands of people on the Japanese island of Okinawa protested Sunday against the presence of U.S. military bases there, many wearing black to mourn the rape and killing of a local woman in which an American contractor is a suspect.

The rally called for a review of the U.S.-Japanese security agreement, which burdens Okinawa with hosting the bulk of American troops in Japan. Also contentious is a plan to relocate a Marine Corps air station to a less-populated part of the southwestern island. The relocation plan developed after public anger erupted in 1995 over the rape of a girl by three American servicemen.

The killing of the local woman, who had been missing for several weeks when her body was found last month, set off outrage on Okinawa, where tensions periodically run high over crime linked to American troops. The U.S. contractor, a former Marine, was arrested on May 19 on suspicion of abandoning the woman's body, but has not yet been charged with killing her.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga told the crowd at the rally in Okinawa's capital, Naha, that he wanted to apologize to the woman for failing to protect her, even after what happened in 1995.

"We had pledged never to repeat such an incident," he said. "I couldn't change the political system to prevent that. That is my utmost regret as a politician and as governor of Okinawa."

About 65,000 people attended the rally, according to the Kyodo News agency. Many people held signs demanding the Marines leave and the overall military on Okinawa be scaled back.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is behind the security agreement with the U.S., and wants Japan to take on a bigger military role on the international stage. But those at the rally said they wanted a more peace-oriented Japan.

"This is not how we want the country to be," said university student Jinshiro Motoyama. "We want the bases gone."

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