Thousands Protest U.S. Okinawa Base
O K I N A W A C I T Y, Japan, July 21 -- Tens of thousands of protesters formed a chain around a major U.S. air base today in a show of opposition to the American military presence in Japan.
The demonstration, timed to coincide with President Clinton’s visit to this weekend’s Group of Eight summit in Okinawa, taps into what U.S. military sources call a wave of anti-American sentiment across East Asia.
Clinton arrived early this morning at U.S. Kadena air base, the largest U.S. air base in Asia. He plans to leave the summit early Saturday, E.T., to arrive in Washington late Saturday to rejoin the Camp David talks by Sunday, ABCNews.com learned today.
At the Cornerstone of Peace, a memorial to the American, Japanese and Korean soldiers who died in World War II on the beaches of Okinawa, Clinton sought to soothe the tensions over the U.S. military presence on Okinawa. “We take seriously our responsibility to be good neighbors,” he said, “ and it is unacceptable to the United States when we do not meet that responsibility.”
He pledged to complete a process of consolidating U.S. bases on Okinawa and “to reduce our footprint on this island.”
U.S. bases take up about 20 percentof the island of Okinawa, with 30,000troops stationed there.
There was no independent confirmation of the protesters’ numbers, but the demonstration appeared to be one of the largest anti-base protests in years. The human chain stretched for 11 miles around the air base. Organizers claimed to have mobilized more than 25,000 people for the chain — almost as many as the U.S. servicemen and -women on Okinawa.
In several areas, the protesters stood three or four deep. Many wore headbands with anti-base slogans and came with their children. “As teachers, we have vowed never to send our students to waragain,” said Isao Kaneshiro, head of a local teachers’ union. “Iwant President Clinton to know that we don’t want his troopshere.”