Nearly 100,000 protest for closure of US military base in Japan

Monday, April 26, 2010

The base Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

A protest on the Japanese island of Okinawa calling for the closure of a United States military base attracted almost 100,000 people on Sunday, after speculations that the Japanese government may back out of an election promise to force it off the island entirely.

The base, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, has been long criticized by the Japanese people, as it and other bases on the island have served as the location for most of America's 47,000 troops stationed in Japan. The US military presence on the island is seen by some as a legacy of Japan's defeat in World War II by the US.

Japan's current prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, pledged to move the base off of Okinawa entirely, and transfer 8,000 military personnel to Guam, superseding a 2006 agreement between the Japanese and American governments to move the base to a less urbanized part of Okinawa. Hatoyama said that he would make a decision about the matter by the end of May, and on Friday told Parliament that he would "stake his job" to do so. Opposition leaders in Japan have demanded that Hatoyama should resign as Prime Minister if he does not make a decision by the end of May.

According to media reports, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada had met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos last week, and had told Roos that Tokyo was in favor of the most of the 2006 deal, a charge which Okada denied, saying that he had met with Roos, but that no concessions on the matter had been made. The reports inflamed Okinawans, and the mayor of Nago, Okinawa said that the government was "playing with the Okinawans' feelings."

Support for Hatoyama's government has fallen sharply in recent months, to 30% approval from 70% late last year, as he has been criticized both in Japan and from the US for his handling of the situation. He has been unable to gain support for alternate sites for the naval base, and has thus far been unable to conduct talks with local officials about the matter. Meanwhile, the US government has pushed for the 2006 agreement to be retained, saying it is the only "viable" solution to the controversy.