Rape and murder by ex-marine sparks furious Okinawa protest
TENS of thousands of demonstrators rallied against US bases on the Japanese island of Okinawa yesterday, venting their anger at the rape and murder of a local woman.
The protest in Naha, the prefecture’s capital, called for a review of the US-Japanese security agreement, which burdens Okinawa with hosting most of the 50,000 US forces stationed in Japan — a remnant of the post-World War II occupation.
Many of the 65,000 demonstrators wore black in a sign of mourning for Rina Shimabukuro, whose body was found in a forest last month, three weeks after her disappearance on April 28.
The prime suspect remains former US marine and military contractor Kenneth Shinzato, who has reportedly admitted dumping Ms Shimabukuro’s body in the forest.
Mr Shinzato, who is married to a local woman, has not yet been charged.
Islanders are united in opposing plans to move the Futenma US Marine Corps air base from its present urban location to a more remote site on the coast.
That scheme, backed by militarist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, arose in response to public outrage over the 1995 rape of a girl by three US servicemen.
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, a leading opponent of US bases, told the crowd he wanted to apologise to the woman for failing to protect her, even after the 1995 incident.
“We had pledged never to repeat such an incident,” he said. “I couldn’t change the political system to prevent that. That is my utmost regret as a politician and as governor of Okinawa.”
Another 10,000 people rallied in front of Mr Abe’s residence in Tokyo in a parallel protest.
The 71-year US military presence on Okinawa, which US forces occupied after a brutal 1945 battle, has been marked by a litany of murders, rapes and other abuse of women and children.
Earlier this month, the US navy was forced to ban alcohol consumption and severely restrict its personnel’s off-base activities after one drunken sailor drove the wrong way along a motorway, crashing into two cars and injuring the occupants.
Last month, Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, the US marine commander in Japan, appealed to Okinawans to allow the bases to remain despite Ms Shimabukuro’s murder.