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1,600 people march through Naha protesting Japan's defense buildup in Okinawa

People protest the Japanese government's moves to build up forces on the Nansei Islands, in a demonstration in the city of Naha, on Feb. 26, 2023. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

NAHA -- A thousand-plus people joined a demonstration in Okinawa's prefectural capital on Feb. 26 to protest the Japanese government's plans to build up its defense capabilities on a group of islands in the country's south for a possible contingency in Taiwan.

    The national government is moving forward with plans to bolster the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and deploy missiles on the Nansei Islands including Okinawa amid concerns of contingencies. Participants in the demonstration in Naha voiced opposition, with one saying, "I want the government to hold thorough dialogue to ease tensions with the neighboring country."

    In Okinawa Prefecture, in addition to Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) camps on Yonaguni and Miyako islands, self-defense forces are also set to be stationed on Ishigaki Island from March. As joint drills with the U.S. military have also been conducted, there has been an increased sense of crisis over a potential military clash. The islands' residents have been calling for the establishment of shelters where they can escape to in the case of missile attacks, as well as the formulation of an evacuation plan for fleeing from the islands.

    The Feb. 26 gathering was joined by some 1,600 people, according to the organizer. The group's 69-year-old executive committee chairperson Takamatsu Gushiken, who has worked for many years to recover the remains of those who perished in the Battle of Okinawa toward the end of the Pacific War, told the rally, "Militarization is being pushed forward at such a speed that it does not leave leeway for the people of Okinawa to think. We must not resort to shelters or evacuation, but choose to stop Okinawa from becoming a battlefield."

    Hiromori Shimoji, cohead of a resident group opposing the deployment of missiles on Miyako Island, which hosts a missile unit, commented, "The GSDF camp is in an area close to residential homes, and the ammunition depot is also near the community. If something happens, residents would not be able to survive it."

    After the gathering, participants marched through the streets of Naha while holding signs reading, "Don't make the islands into battlefields!" and "No more military bases."

    (Japanese original by Shinnosuke Kyan, Kyushu Photo Department)

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