Anger against crimes committed by US military personnel prompted tens of thousands of demonstrators to rally on Okinawa Sunday to demand that the US Marine Corps withdraw its forces from the Japanese island.
About 65,000 people gathered in the Okinawa prefectural capital of Naha to mark the death of a 20-year-old woman, who was allegedly raped and killed by a former US marine in late April.
A message from her father was read out at the rally.
“Why did it have to be my daughter? Why did she have to be killed?” the father asked.
"So as not to have another victim, the people in the [Okinawa] prefecture can unite and make it possible for all bases (on the island) to be removed," read the letter.
Suzuyo Takazato, a leader of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, recalled rapes and murders of local women by US soldiers before the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japanese administration from US occupation.
“Even after the reversion, similar incidents took place,” Takazato said. "How can we put into action our sentiments that no further incidents like this should occur?"
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga attended the gathering organized by local political parties and business and citizens groups.
Many participants held a sign that read “Our anger has reached the limit,” in reference to a series of crimes committed by US military-linked personnel.
In early June, a US sailor was nabbed for suspected drunk driving after driving on the wrong side of the road and colliding with two vehicles, injuring two.
In March, a US serviceman was arrested for allegedly raping a Japanese woman at a hotel in Naha, while she was visiting Okinawa. He was later indicted.
On Sunday, the protesters also called for Japan and the United States to abandon the construction of a new US military base in northern Okinawa, which would take over the functions of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the middle of residential areas on the island.
In 1996, the US and Japan agreed to close Futenma to ease islanders' anger after a 12-year-old local schoolgirl was raped by three US servicemen. Despite massive local opposition, the two governments have tried to build new US military facilities in exchange for the closure.
The project would cost Japanese taxpayers more than 1 trillion yen (9.6 billion dollars), according to analysts in Tokyo and Okinawa.
A recent poll conducted by the island's Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper showed about 84 per cent of Okinawans opposed the construction in a coastal area of Nago city.
Around half of the 53,000 US military personnel in Japan are stationed on Okinawa, 1,600 kilometres south-west of Tokyo, which is less than 1 per cent of the country's total land mass.
Okinawans felt displeased Sunday after the US Embassy in Tokyo issued a statement, saying, “Even demonstrations [on Okinawa] intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”
The rally was “precisely opposite to violent behaviour,” Morimasa Goya, a local business leader, was quoted by Ryukyu Shimpo as saying before the event. “The US side failed to understand the gravity of the situation. I want them to come and see it.”