Thousands call for US troop withdrawal as Obama visits Japan

Thousands of demonstrators urged the US military to withdraw its troops from the Japanese island of Okinawa Wednesday, hours before US President Barack Obama arrived in the country.

Obama landed at a military base in central Japan late Wednesday after a three-day trip to Vietnam, and is to attend a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations.

About 4,000 people gathered in front of US Kadena Air Base to commemorate the death of an Okinawa woman and to seek the withdrawal of the US military, organizers said.

The demonstration came six days after the arrest of a former US marine in connection with the death of the 20-year-old woman.

"We have suffered from the US military bases for 71 years since the end of World War II," Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine told a crowd. "Let's mobilize anger and change that!"

The 32-year-old former marine, who now works at the US air base, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of dumping the woman. He has admitted to strangling her, Japanese media reported.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "will demand that the US take rigorous measures” when he holds talks with Obama later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. 

The protesters also urged Washington and Tokyo to give up the construction of a new US military base in Nago city in the northern part of the island, which will take over the functions of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, surrounded by residential areas on the island.

In 1996, the US and Japan agreed to close Futenma to ease islanders' anger after a 12-year-old school girl was raped by three US servicemen. The two countries' governments have tried to build a new facility in exchange for the closure despite strong opposition from locals and environmental groups. However, nothing has materialized so far.

Around half of the 53,000 US military personnel in Japan are stationed on Okinawa, 1,600 kilometres south-west of Tokyo.

The US military presence and the global economy would both feature on the agenda for talks between the two leaders, Suga said.

They will also "discuss a wide range of issues, including regional situations, the world economy and bilateral and global issues," he added.

Obama will also visit the western city of Hiroshima Friday, where the US dropped an atomic bomb in the closing days of World War II. He will become the first sitting US president to visit the site.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25

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