NAHA • Thousands of people gathered on the Japanese island of Okinawa yesterday in one of the biggest demonstrations in two decades against United States military bases following the arrest of an American suspected of murdering a local woman.
The protest marks a new low for the US and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in their relations with the island and threatens plans to have the US Marines' Futenma air station moved to a less populous part of the island.
The US and Japan agreed in 1996 to close the Futenma site after the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl by three US military personnel spurred mass demonstrations against the American presence.
That plan has been on hold since residents living near the proposed relocation site protested against the move, worried about noise, pollution and crime.
Okinawa hosts 50,000 US nationals, including 30,000 military personnel and civilians employed at US bases. Last month's arrest of the 32-year-old US civilian working at a base prompted the US military to announce a 30-day period of mourning for the victim in a bid to assuage local anger. But relations were further frayed by the subsequent arrest of a US sailor on Okinawa on suspicion of drunk driving following a car crash.