NAHA — Tens of thousands of people gathered for a rally in Okinawa on Sunday to protest against the planned deployment of U.S. Ospreys in the prefecture in the face of a series of problems involving the tilt-rotor military aircraft.
|An elderly demo participant holds a sign bearing the kanji character for “anger.”|
“It cannot be considered normal to live under conditions in which an Osprey may fall from the sky at any moment,” Masaharu Kina, chairman of the Okinawa prefectural assembly, told the protesters at a seaside park in Ginowan, which hosts the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station.
Organizers said 101,000 people took part in the rally.
The protest was held after safety concerns over the deployment of the aircraft in Japan were amplified following Osprey crashes earlier this year in Morocco and Florida. Pentagon reports suggest human error was a factor in both crashes.
On Saturday, it was also reported that an Osprey made an emergency landing at a field behind a church in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on Thursday.
Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima told the rally the U.S. and Japanese governments “aim to bring Ospreys, whose safety cannot be assured, into Futenma without making any improvements.”
Among the participants was Yoshitaka Shinjo, 45, a neighborhood community leader from Ginowan. “While I oppose the Osprey deployment, I also believe in the need to remove the dangerous Futenma air base.”
The rally on Sunday was organized by the prefectural assembly as well as Okinawa municipality leaders and business circles. Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima did not attend.
In a message sent to the rally organizers and read out to participants, Nakaima said, “I will continue to convey Okinawa residents’ opposition to the deployment to the Japanese and U.S. governments.”
In Tokyo, meanwhile, around 10,000 people held hands around the 1.5-km rim of the Diet building to show their opposition to the Osprey deployment, according to organizers of the demonstration.
Tetsuya Takahashi, professor at the University of Tokyo, told them, “The Japanese government is making light of people’s lives by declaring the Osprey is safe. We need to show our voices in a clear manner.”
A protest rally was also held in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, which hosts a U.S. Navy base, with around 50 people participating. Noriko Haraguchi, an 18-year-old high school student, said, “The Osprey issue is a problem not only for Okinawa (but the whole of Japan). I hope its deployment in Japan will be terminated.”
Twelve MV-22 Ospreys, which are currently stationed at the Marines’ Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture, are scheduled to be deployed at the Futenma base in October.
Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said in a television program on Sunday that Japan is negotiating with the United States regarding Osprey operations to assure Okinawa residents of the aircraft’s safety.
“We are considering having this aircraft utilized for Japan’s security. We would like (residents) to look at it from a broad perspective,” Morimoto said.
He is scheduled to visit Okinawa and Yamaguchi prefectures on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the deployment issue with local leaders.