Subject: [cwj 69] On Summit Eve, Anger Simmers in ''Human Chain'' Against U.S. Bases
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000 17:36:51 -0700
Seq: 69

Title: JAPAN: On Summit Eve, Anger Simmers in ''Human Chain'' Against
U.S. Bases

By Suvendrini Kakuchi

NAHA, Japan, Jul 20 (IPS) - Under the scorching sun, 61-year-old
Etsuko Jahana joined 27,000 demonstrators who linked hands on Thursday to
make a 17-kilometre long ''human chain'' around Kadena Air Base in
protest against the U.S. military presence on Okinawa, host to the largest
bases in the Far East.

The protesters, who staged the demonstration on the eve of the
G-8 summit that starts Friday, said they hoped the biggest protest act to
date would make visiting leaders of the richest countries take notice of
their call for the closure of the bases, and an end to 52 years of
''misery'' as
a result of their presence and repeated misdeeds by American soldiers.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is scheduled to arrive in
Okinawa Friday, will be the first American leader to visit the island
since 1960 when it was turned over to Japan.

The bases comprise 20 percent of the best beaches of idyllic
subtropical Okinawa and houses 26,000 soldiers plus their families. The bases
also provide 8,600 jobs to the local population.

In early July, the arrest of a U.S. marine who was caught
breaking into the room of a 14-year-old girl and molesting her, became the
latest incident that sparked off a new wave of simmering animosity against
American military presence.

Jahana lives in Iejima, a island just 22 kilometers long off
Okinawa which also has a small U.S. facility that provides logistic
support to the bigger Kadena base.

The elderly Jahana, who walks with a limp as a result of
rheumatism, explains she is a committed pacifist as a result of years of
suffering at the hands of both Japanese troops during the Pacific War and the
current American military presence.

She recalls how she was ordered to leave her home by the
Japanese military that wanted the strategically placed island to build an
air base that was to be used against the Western allied army.

''The Japanese soldiers cut the trees, tore our houses down and
destroyed the habitat. After the war ended, the government asked us to
return to a wasteland with no compensation or aid to rebuild our lives,'' she

''The base poses a threat to our lives because many times
American soldiers fall into our fields when they practice parachuting and
we have to bear constant noise. Is there no end to our exploitation?'' asks
Jahana, who is also with the Wabianasato Foundation, a grassroots organisation
that counts 4,000 of the 5,600 population of Iejima as members.

The U.S. bases in Okinawa, set up in 1953, are a pressing issue
in Japanese politics. Jahana's experience symbolises the group of
islands' stormy historical past with the mainland.

A Peace Memorial Park that stands on the hills of Okinawa is
proof of how the island population was ravaged when more than 200,000 the
people were killed in the only land battle Japan fought when it faced
U.S. troops at the end of Pacific War.

The Ryukyu islands, as they were known, were invaded by
Japanese warlords two centuries ago and then formally annexed by the Meiji
government in the early 20th century.

A period of official assimilation followed but the islands,
with its distinct culture from the mainstream, complains of harsh
discrimination from the rest of Japan.

''It is not only the US bases but also unfairness of the
Japanese government which does nothing to ease the problems we face that
makes it so hard,'' says Masahide Ota, former governor of Okinawa.

Ota, who was part of the ''human chain'' Thursday, is an open
critic of the US bases. He won twice in local elections but lost narrowly
last year to his
opponent who promised economic development to the island that grapples with
almost 10 percent unemployment, the highest in Japan.

Because of the string of offenses by U.S. soldiers -- including
a 1995 rape of a Japanese girl that fueled anger here -- Okinawan women
are the leaders of the protest movement against the social cost of hosting
the  bases.

Suzuyo Takazato, head of The Okinawa Women Acting Against
Military Violence, says that while officially figures of rape are low - 200
cases since the bases were set up in 1953 - she believes this is only
the tip of the iceberg.

''I know because I also worked as a counselor for women seeking
support for rape. Many of them, who worked in bars or sex workers
servicing U.S. soldiers, told me how they had been molested and raped but
not to press charges because they were frightened,'' she explained.

Takazato's group says rapes are committed against women of all
ages with cases of some as old as 60 years reporting harm. ''What hurts the
most is these men get away as the law has restricted us from hearing the
cases in Japanese courts,'' she explains, citing terms of the U.S. military
presence that had barred this.

However, heated demonstrations against the 1995 rape of a 12
year-old girl by 3 American soldiers forced the Japanese government to
finally nudge Washington to allow the men to be charged locally.  

Origin: Rome/JAPAN/

       [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
Corporate Watch in Japanese
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