Thousands of Okinawans rallied on Sunday to protest crimes by U.S. troops and demand a smaller U.S. military presence on the southern Japanese island after last month's arrest of a Marine on suspicion of raping a schoolgirl.
"Crimes and accidents due to the bases have happened over and over and Okinawa has protested with intense anger to both the U.S. and Japanese governments," Kyodo quoted Okinawa City Mayor Mitsuko Tomon as telling a crowd gathered in heavy rain in the town of Chatan, where the February incident occurred.
"But each time, our voices have been trampled and there has been no end to the heinous crimes," the mayor added.
Organisers estimated about 6,000 people took part in the rally, Kyodo news agency said. Police declined to give an estimate.
The arrest of U.S. Marine Tyrone Hadnott, 38, on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old girl sparked outrage on Okinawa, the reluctant host to a huge chunk of U.S. troops in Japan, and stirred memories of the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl that prompted huge anti-base protests and jolted the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Participants in Sunday's rally adopted a resolution demanding consolidation of the U.S. bases and revisions to a pact governing the status of the nearly 50,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan to give Japanese authorities greater legal jurisdiction.
Both Tokyo and Washington have so far rejected demands to revise the Status of Forces Agreement.
"The rights of the people of Okinawa continue to be violated by the base-related damage, and we call on both the U.S. and Japanese governments to fundamentally revise the Status of Forces Agreement," Kyodo quoted the resolution as saying.
Last Mod: 23 Mart 2008, 14:00
The pact was not an issue in the Hadnott case since the Marine was arrested off-base by Japanese police. He was turned over to U.S. military authorities after the girl dropped charges, possibly to avoid the public glare.
Organisers, including women's groups, had hoped for a turnout of around 10,000 people but squabbling between conservative politicians and leftist opposition groups undercut their efforts.
Ruling party-backed Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima decided not to take part, citing concern about the privacy of the victim.
The rally comes as Tokyo is trying to persuade local residents to accept a plan to shift key functions of the U.S. Marine's Futenma air station from the crowded central city of Ginowan to the lightly populated coastal town of Nago.
Relocating Futenma is key to a broader plan to shift some 8,000 of the 13,000 Marines now on Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam to lighten the presence of the U.S. military on the Japanese island. Nago authorities have agreed to the move but sticky details remain to be worked out.
Anti-base critics argue that the consolidation plans will only slightly reduce Okinawa's burden for the U.S.-Japan security alliance, a pillar of Japan's post-World War Two diplomacy.