Jun 23, 2019
NAHA, Japan - Okinawa on Sunday marked the 74th year since the end of a major World War II ground battle that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 local residents and soldiers from the Japanese and American militaries.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who was elected last September, made a "peace declaration" at the annual memorial service in the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, in which he urged the central government to give up its plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the subtropical island prefecture.
Using also the region's dialect and English, Tamaki said, "We must pass down Okinawa's warm heart we call 'chimugukuru' and its spirit of peace, inherited from our ancestors, to our children and grandchildren."
"We will endeavor to forge a world of everlasting peace," the governor said in English before closing the declaration by pledging he is "determined to work together with the people of Okinawa."
But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also attended the ceremony in the park, the site of the final stage of the Battle of Okinawa, told reporters later that he will promote the project, saying that the relocation "doesn't mean a base will be added."
In his speech during the memorial service, Abe said he would "achieve results" in reducing the "burden" on Okinawa.
Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, wants to move the Futenma air base outside of the prefecture.
But the central government and the United States have already agreed to relocate the base from a crowded residential district in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
They have said the current plan is the "only solution" to eliminate the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. security alliance.
No court has ruled in favor of the prefecture in the legal battle launched against the central government by the late Takeshi Onaga, the predecessor of Tamaki and a staunch opponent of the relocation plan.
Tamaki oversaw a prefectural referendum in February on the transfer plan which demonstrated the depth of local opposition to the base move. More than 70 percent of voters rejected the plan, although the outcome was legally nonbinding.
In the ground conflict that ran from March through June 1945, approximately 94,000 civilians, about a quarter of Okinawa's population at that time, as well as over 94,000 Japanese soldiers and some 12,500 U.S. troops died, according to the prefecture.
This year, the names of 42 war dead were newly inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace in the park, bringing the total to 241,566, irrespective of nationality or their civilian or military status.
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