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Protesters tell U.S. 'bases must go'

By Gery Armsby

About 7,000 people rallied in the central Okinawan city of Ginowan July 15, outraged by a recent sexual assault committed by a U.S. soldier. Many demonstrators braved hours under the scorching sun. Others found shade under red umbrellas, hats, and banners emblazoned with large white and yellow letters, "No!" Other signs and banners echoed the demand, "No to U.S. bases!"

A U.S. Marine stationed at a base in Okinawa is charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. Another U.S. soldier was involved in a hit-and-run collision that injured a Japanese civilian. The incidents reveal a pattern in recent years of sexual offenses and other crimes against young Okinawan women.

In October 1998, a U.S. Marine hit and killed a young girl while he was driving drunk. In September 1995, three U.S. Marines raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl, leading to fierce demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people.

The latest offenses have hit a nerve with many Okinawans who say "enough is enough." Now, their anger at the U.S. military presence on their soil is being directed into mass protests organized throughout the island region.

Upcoming protests will target President Clinton's planned July 21 visit for the "Group of 8" summit meeting, which is being held in Northern Okinawa's Nago region, where a new U.S. base is planned. The G8 brings together leaders from the world's richest imperialist countries and Russia.

Occupation by Japan,
United States

Okinawa was a separate kingdom until a 16th-century invasion by Japan, its neighbor several hundred miles to the north. In the late 19th century, Japan annexed the 50-plus islands in the East China Sea that make up Okinawa.

U.S. imperialism defeated Japanese imperialism in World War II and carried out nuclear attacks that leveled Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Ever since, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have been stationed throughout Japan.

Caught between the U.S. and Japanese imperialist armies in World War II, Okinawa was subjected to relentless bombing by artillery and air assault. Two-fifths of the Okinawan civilian population were killed in the crossfire.

After the war, the United States controlled the islands until 1972. Okinawa was returned to Japan on the condition that U.S. bases remain there.

What do the residents of Okinawa get from the Pentagon in return for the use of their island? They are subjected to intense noise pollution from high-velocity jet engines, environmental devastation, sexual abuse by military personnel, and frequent denial of support from U.S. fathers of children born to Okinawan mothers.

In a 1997 referendum Okinawans voted overwhelmingly to get the U.S. bases out. In response, Tokyo and Washington did nothing.

Okinawa houses more than half of all U.S. military bases, hardware and personnel currently stationed in Japan. This leaves only about three-fifths of Okinawa's inhabitable territory for civilians.

The Japanese Treasury pays some $6 billion of the cost of the U.S. military bases--angering Okinawans and Japanese alike.

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