Tens of thousands on Okinawa protested Sunday against the presence of US military bases, reports the AP, many wearing black to mourn the rape and killing of a local woman in which an American contractor is a suspect. The rally called for a review of the US-Japanese security agreement, which burdens Okinawa with hosting the bulk of American troops in Japan. Also contentious is a plan to relocate a Marine Corps air station to a less-populated part of the island. The relocation plan developed after public anger erupted in 1995 over the rape of a girl by three US servicemen. The killing of the local woman, who had been missing for several weeks when her body was found last month, set off outrage on Okinawa, where tensions periodically run high over crime linked to American troops. The US contractor, a former Marine, was arrested on May 19 on suspicion of abandoning the woman's body, but has not yet been charged with killing her.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga told the crowd he wanted to apologize to the woman for failing to protect her, even after what happened in 1995. "We had pledged never to repeat such an incident," he said. "I couldn't change the political system to prevent that. That is my utmost regret." About 65,000 people attended the rally, per Kyodo News agency. "This is not how we want the country to be," says a university student. "We want the bases gone." This month, the US Navy imposed a drinking ban after an American sailor was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. The restriction was recently eased. But Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian history in Tokyo, said resentment will continue on Okinawa. "They just feel so frustrated," he said of residents. "These protests are not just going to go away." (Read more Okinawa stories.)