Okinawa on Thursday marked 71 years since the end of a fierce World War II ground battle that claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, while the large U.S. military presence in the island prefecture as a result of the war continues to stir tensions with local people.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga are among the officials attending the memorial service for the war dead to be held at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of the final stage of the Battle ofOkinawa.
This year’s anniversary comes just days after tens of thousands of people protested in Naha over the U.S. military presence and the alleged rape and murder of a 20-year-old local woman by a U.S. military base worker who is also a former Marine.
The central and local governments remain at odds over the planned relocation of a U.S. . base within the southwestern prefecture, with the governor demanding that replacement runways not be built in a coastal area on Okinawa’s main island.
U.S. military bases in the prefecture were built on land expropriated from islanders during the postwar U.S. occupation that lasted until 1972, resulting in the prefecture holding some 74 percent of the total acreage of U.S. military facilities in the country.
This year, the names of 84 war dead were newly inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace in the park, bringing the total to 241,414, irrespective of nationality and military or civilian status.
The Battle of Okinawa began in the spring of 1945, when U.S. forces landed on the main island of Okinawa and other islands in the area. Some 94,000 civilians, or about a quarter of the residents of the prefecture, died in the three-month battle between Japanese and U.S. troops. Overall, more than 200,000 lives were lost, including those of Americans.