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Okinawa marks 76th anniv. of WWII ground battle

A woman prays in front of a wall engraved with the names of victims of the Battle of Okinawa on June 22, 2021, at Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

NAHA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Okinawa on Wednesday marked the 76th anniversary of the end of a major World War II ground battle between Japanese and U.S. troops, with a memorial service downscaled for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who was not invited to the event amid the pandemic, is scheduled to give a speech in a video message. The 1945 battle in the final phase of World War II claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, including civilians as well as Japanese and U.S. combatants.

    Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki will make a "peace declaration" in the ceremony at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of the final stage of the Battle of Okinawa.

    Around 94,000 civilians, about a quarter of Okinawa's population at the time, as well as over 94,000 Japanese soldiers and about 12,500 U.S. troops died in the fighting from March through June 1945, according to the government of the southern Japan prefecture.

    This year's anniversary comes as the local and central governments remain split over the large U.S. military presence in the island prefecture.

    The prefecture constitutes around 0.6 percent of Japan's total land area but hosts 70 percent of the total acreage exclusively used by U.S. military facilities in Japan.

    Despite strong local opposition, the central government has been pushing forward with land reclamation for the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less densely populated coastal district of Henoko, in Nago, both in Okinawa.

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