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23 Dec, 2016 01:42

‘No Ospreys in our skies!’ Okinawa governor leads mass protest against US military bases (VIDEO)

‘No Ospreys in our skies!’ Okinawa governor leads mass protest against US military bases (VIDEO)

Thousands of Okinawa residents have gathered to protest the presence of American helipads and US forces on the island, despite a historical handover of nearly 10,000 acres of Japanese land that the US has used as a military base since WWII.

On Thursday the Japanese government held a ceremony to mark the US military’s return of the largest tract of land in Okinawa. Some 4,000 hectares of forest area was reverted to Japanese control, with the US military given the privilege to still administer the area.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga was absent from the event as he opposed the conditions of the transfer deal. In 1996, Japan and the United States agreed on the land reversion in exchange for allowing six new helipads to be built in the retained portion of US-controlled land.

To oppose the US military presence on the island, Onaga instead led a demonstration of over 4,000 activists in Nago who joined in with protests against the helipads.

Demonstrators carried banners that read “get out marines”, and “no base Henoko,” as they were watched by lines of police.

While the land transfer reduced American-administered areas on the southern island of Okinawa by 17 percent, Onaga, who has been campaigning against a US presence since 2014, called the deal deceptive.

“The land return ceremony one-sidedly held by the central government is nothing but a proof they have no intention whatsoever to be considerate of our suffering,” Onaga said, referring to potential dangers of hosting US V-22 Osprey aircraft.

Washington stations two Osprey squadrons in Japan, totaling 24 aircraft. The Osprey, built by Boeing and Textron Bell Helicopter is designed to take off like a helicopter and rotate its propellers to fly like a plane.

Activists for years have been voicing concern about increased noise from the construction of the US helicopter bases while expressing fear over possible accidents.

The V-22 Osprey over the years has had eight hull-loss accidents with a total of 36 fatalities worldwide. The entire fleet of Ospreys was briefly grounded earlier this month in Okinawa after one of them crashed in shallow waters off the island last week. The ban was lifted this Monday.

“The thought that there will be a new base in Henoko makes me feel strong resentment and unease about the dangerous Osprey flights that will happen tonight and continue in the future. I am committed to prevent Osprey from flying in our skies,” Onaga told the rally.

The governor’s concern has somewhat been shared by Japan’s defense minister, Tomomi Inada, who urged the United States military “to take thorough preventive measures so that such an incident will never occur again,” New York Times reported.

In the meantime, Okinawa Prefectural Assembly passed a resolution Thursday to oppose the resumption of Osprey flights.

“One wrong move could have led to a disaster involving residents,” said the resolution, according to Japan Times.