Protesters Rally Before G-8 Summit
OKINAWA CITY, Japan (AP) _ Tens of thousands of protesters formed a chain around a major U.S. air base Thursday in a show of opposition to the American military presence here ahead of President Clinton’s visit for this weekend’s Group of Eight summit.
Organizers claimed to have mobilized more than 25,000 people for the chain, which stretched 11 miles around Kadena Air Base, one of the largest U.S. military installations here.
There was no independent confirmation of the protesters’ numbers, but the demonstration appeared to be one of the largest anti-base protests in years. In several areas, the protesters stood three or four deep. Many wore headbands with anti-base slogans and came with their children.
``As teachers, we have vowed never to send our students to war again,″ said Isao Kaneshiro, head of a local teachers’ union. ``I want President Clinton to know that we don’t want his troops here.″
The protest, organized by local labor unions and civic groups, was peaceful, and there were no reports of arrests or incidents.
The protest was held as the G-8 leaders began arriving on Okinawa for their annual summit, which starts Friday and lasts through Sunday.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was the first leader to arrive, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, not expected until late Friday afternoon, was to be the last.
Several leaders held bilateral meetings in Tokyo before flying on to Okinawa. Clinton was to hold a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Thursday, but postponed that at the last minute to finish the Mideast peace talks being held in the United States.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers stood in for Clinton on Thursday in Tokyo at pre-G-8 meeting with developing countries. He was accompanied by Gene Sperling, the national economic adviser, and Lael Brainard, deputy national economic adviser.
The G-8 consists of the United States, Japan, Russia, Britain, Italy, Canada, Germany and France. The group has held summits each year for the past 25 years. This is the fourth summit Japan has hosted, and the first it has held outside of Tokyo.
This year’s summit was expected to focus on information technology and ways to alleviate the ``digital divide,″ money laundering and financial crimes, debt relief for the world’s poorest nations and the global economy in general.
But the summit was also expected to be heavy on the photo op.
The meetings are to be held at a subtropical, beachside resort in the city of Nago, on the northern part of Okinawa, and officials are hoping it will put Okinawa on the international tourism map. Tourism is Okinawa’s most important source of income after the military bases.
Among the main activities planned for the leaders is a dinner and traditional dancing at Okinawa’s Shuri Castle, a remnant of the Okinawan dynasty that ruled these islands as a kingdom independent from Japan for nearly three centuries until it was assimilated in the late 1800s.
But whatever official topics are discussed, the summit will almost certainly be overshadowed by Clinton himself.
The focus on Clinton was only heightened by his conspicuous absence Thursday.
Clinton would be the first American president to visit Okinawa. Following Japan’s surrender in World War II, Washington governed Okinawa until 1972 _ 20 years after the occupation of the rest of Japan had ended.
The United States has continued to use Okinawa as a major military outpost in the Pacific, however.
Nearly 30,000 of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa, including the largest contingent of Marines outside the United States. Many Okinawans feel the presence is too heavy, and want it reduced or eliminated.
Military-related crime is also a frequent source of tensions. The recent arrest of a 19-year-old Marine for allegedly breaking into a home and climbing into bed with a schoolgirl asleep there has reignited anger among Okinawans.
``Most Okinawans welcome the summit,″ said an editorial Thursday in the Ryukyu Shimpo, one of Okinawa’s main newspapers. ``But there are concerns as well. We are concerned that the bases, which cause such damage to us, will be praised by the summit leaders.″
Because of the controversy over the bases, security for the summit has been extremely tight. Some 22,000 police, most flown in from other parts of Japan, have been deployed on Okinawa.
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