Protests to the planned deployment of the controversial Osprey aircraft in the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma air station in Japan's Okinawa island gained momentum when 30 people staged a sit-in protest before the facility on Monday after pitching a tent to shield from pouring rain.
The group plans to stage a daily sit-in until August 5, when a massive protest rally by Okinawan residents is scheduled. Hiroji Yamashiro, the group's representative, said deployment of Osprey in October would likely negate an agreement between Japan and the U.S. to return the Futenma air base to Okinawa, Japanese media reported.
The islanders are concerned over the safety of the Bell Boeing-made MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport plane after a series of accidents involving the aircraft, the latest ones in Morocco and the U.S. state of Florida. Two airmen were killed in the Morocco crash. The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and the local mayor and other authorities were also opposed to the deployment of the aircraft in the island in Japan's south.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba urged the United States to release information on Osprey accidents to ease the public's concerns.
Addressing a news conference along with his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton in Tokyo on Sunday, Gemba said he told Clinton that people in Okinawa prefecture and other parts of Japan were reacting sharply to the planned deployment of the aircraft in Okinawa.
He said he had sought more information on the Osprey's recent crashes as soon as possible to convince the people that the aircraft was safe.
Clinton said the United States cared deeply about the safety of its Japanese operations and the U.S. would work closely with its Japanese partners to ensure that any U.S. equipment in Japan met the highest safety standards.
Both of them also confirmed that the U.S. would speed up efforts to realign its military forces in Japan by the end of this year. They agreed to relocate the Futenma air station in Okinawa to the Henoko district in Nago City in the prefecture.
They also discussed the disputes over the islands in the South China Sea between China and some ASEAN members. They agreed to cooperate for a peaceful resolution based on international law at this week's meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Cambodia.
by RTT Staff Writer
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