Japan PM Abe heckled in Okinawa war ceremony over US bases

Locals shout 'Go home' to Japan PM Shinzo Abe at ceremony marking 70th anniversary of Battle of Okinawa

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was heckled on Tuesday at a war ceremony in Okinawa where a huge US military base is located.

The rare outburst in conservative Japan happened at the Battle of Okinawa ceremony which marked the 70th anniversary of Japan's only land battle which killed around 250,000 people.

Okinawa hosts thousands of US soldiers and local anger towards their presence has intensified in recent years. The base occupies 18 percent of the island’s total land area, and people have been campaigning against plans to relocate the base within the island.

Abe and US officials were attending the ceremony with thousands of locals when some people in the crowd started shouting "Go home" and "What are you doing here?" as Shinzo Abe was walking to the podium.

Thousands of people protested in Okinawa against the base, demanding it be completely removed from the island, instead of relocated to another area. They complained about the noise, pollution and crime caused by the thousands of troops located there.

Public jeering continued during Abe's speech.

"The people of Okinawa are bearing a heavy burden for security with the concentration of U.S. bases," he said.

"We will continue to make every effort to lighten your burden."

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who was elected with a campaign against the US base, was welcomed by the crowd after he talked about the "the heavy burden" of American bases.

"Seventy-three-point-eight percent of US military facilities [in Japan] are still concentrated in our prefecture, which makes up only 0.6 percent of the country's land area," he said.

"We strongly demand that the government cancel construction [at] Henoko and review its policies of reducing Okinawa's base burden once again."

More than 100,000 Okinawans and 100,000 Japanese troops died in the 82-day battle over the island, as well as 12,000 American soldiers.

During the ceremony visitors and some survivors of the war prayed and left flowers in front of the black marble monuments with the names of the fallen written on them.

"It was innocent civilians who suffered," survivor Takeko Kakazu, 97, told AFP. "Seventy years have passed but the cruelty of the war stays with me."

"We fled south from Naha [the capital of Okinawa], but there were no caves left to hide in," added Kakazu, who was pregnant at the time and gave birth on an American warship after being caught.

"The bombs kept dropping and we had to hide under trees. It was dreadful."

The battle is seen by some as senseless a waste of life as Tokyo surrendered in any case following the dropping of on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The island was occupied by the US until 1972.

TRTWorld and agencies