TOKYO — A US CH-53 helicopter crashed on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Wednesday, stirring locals’ anger towards the US military presence there, local media reported.
The helicopter’s crew was not injured. The Japanese government has yet to confirm whether any civilians were affected, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.
Firefighters and US helicopters were battling a blaze after the crash, according to the island’s Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper.
The helicopter crashed on a grazing area near a US military training area in the northern part of the island, the paper reported, where US helipads were constructed last year despite massive local opposition.
“I’m filled with anger. What on earth does the central government think about our lives?” Ikuko Isa, a resident in Takae district, was quoted by the paper as saying.
Tokyo “should not let [US military] aircraft fly any longer,” she added.
A US Osprey aircraft crashed in the area during a night-time refueling exercise in December, which saw two of the five servicemen on board injured.
The Osprey accident fuelled locals’ resentment towards the US military presence on Okinawa, 1,600 kilometers south-west of Tokyo. The island prefecture accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan’s total land mass, but it hosts more than half of the 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan.
Wednesday’s accident comes 11 days before parliamentary elections in Japan. In the previous race in 2014, Okinawans elected four lower house lawmakers who strongly oppose the construction of a new US military base in northern Okinawa, which could take over the functions of a major US military base on the island.
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