Okinawa protest
Protestors in front of US Futenma airbase during a demonstration on the Japanese island of OkinawaReuters

Over 28,000 people circled the parliament house in Tokyo, on Sunday 21 February, holding hands and shouting: "Don't build the base." There were hundreds of similar protests held across the country, Kyoto news agency reported. They were demonstrating at government plans to relocate a US military base on Okinawa island, according to Reuters.

Okinawa was the site of Japan's only land battles in World War Two and following Japan's surrender, Washington governed Okinawa until 1972 — 20 years after the occupation of the rest of Japan had ended. Many local people are unhappy that it is home to tens of thousands of US military personnel. Residents say they associate US bases with crime, pollution and noise.

The controversial US marine airbase in the southern Japanese island, is at the centre of a 20 year-long row over the relocation of the site. Okinawa is home to more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan as part of a defence alliance, which many of the island's residents say is too many.

The US announced plans to move the Futenma airbase in 1996, hoping to assuage anger with the local community after the gang-rape of a schoolgirl by servicemen. But residents are moving to block the relocation of the base within the island, saying the facility should be removed entirely.

"The government says we are to blame that the issue has stalled for 19 years and they tell us to find an alternative place [for the base relocation]. That is outrageous," said Susumu Inamine, the anti-US base mayor of the Okinawa city of Nago.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last month said the current re-location plan was "the only solution". However anti-base Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga rejected this, claiming that three recent popular votes in Okinawa all showed overwhelming opposition to the move.

Kiku Nakayama, a local protester, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying: "The current government is pushing the plan. Is it really a democratic country?"