NAHA, Japan, June 19 (UPI) — Tens of thousands of Japanese people on Sunday demanded the removal of all U.S. bases from their region, the largest outcry on the issue in two decades.
The protest, in Okinawa, had been billed as a memorial for a 20-year-old woman found dead last month, The New York Times reported. A U.S. Marine veteran working there as a civilian contractor is charged in connection with her death.
Organizers estimated the crowd at some 65,000, the largest protest since 1995 when the rape of a 12-year-old girl by two U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy sailor shook the relationship between the two countries.
Protesters were demanding that a plan to move a U.S. base from one part of the island to another be abandoned, part of the Japanese people’s dissatisfaction with the U.S. military, which has has been festering for years.
The U.S. Navy announced earlier this month it banned personnel in Japan from drinking and restricted off-base activities after a sailor in Okinawa was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, Voice of America reported. Petty Officer Aimee Mejia was arrested after she was reportedly driving on the wrong side of a highway, then crashed her car into two vehicles, injuring two people.
The Navy alcohol ban is indefinite.
The original plan to relocate the base dates back to 1996 when both Japan and the United States agreed to close the Futenma air base, located in an urban residential area where the 12-year-old was raped. That rape led to mass demonstrations, which put the base move on indefinite hold.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who favors the base relocation, has seen his popularity dip in the region as a result.
Some of the bloodiest fighting in World War II took place on Okinawa, which was followed by a 27-year U.S. occupation.