TOKYO, June 23 (Xinhua) -- Okinawa marked on Thursday the 71st anniversary of the end of a fierce World War II ground battle in 1945 that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, amid heightened tensions over the existence of U.S. military bases in the island prefecture.
A memorial ceremony was held around noon Thursday at the Peace Memorial Park in the Mabuni district of Itoman, the site of the last major fighting of the Battle of Okinawa, with some 4,700 people attending, including relatives of war victims as well as government officials.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, referring to the heinous crime of a former U.S. Marine and base worker who raped and murdered a 20-year-old local woman in April, demanded a sharp reduction of U.S. bases in Okinawa.
"The incident was extremely cruel and inhumane. People in Okinawa are upset and angry. Over the years, U.S. military men in Okinawa have repeatedly caused incidents," said Onaga.
"Is freedom, equality, human rights and democracy guaranteed under the Constitution equally guaranteed for the people of Okinawa who have no choice but to live their lives sandwiched between the Japan-U.S. security arrangements and the SOFA?" asked the governor.
Onaga also called on the central government to drastically review the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which gives the U.S. servicemen and civilian workers in Japan privileged status.
Under the SOFA, U.S. forces' personnel can be granted a great deal of legal autonomy and while the Japanese court system has jurisdiction over most crimes committed by U.S. service members, if the accused was "acting in official duty," or if the victim was another American, the U.S. justice system is used instead of Japan's.
The governor also required the central government to revoke the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma base within the southwestern prefecture, saying the move was "intolerable."
Abe, for his part, said at the ceremony that Japan and the United States are negotiating changes to the way the SOFA is applied, and claimed the government would continue to take a "whole of country" approach to reduce the burden Okinawa has shouldered to host the U.S. military.
While his speech was refuted by some of the attendants at the ceremony as "lying," Abe claimed to the media afterwards that the U.S. military presence in Japan was "indispensable to peace and security in Japan."
The Battle of Okinawa began in the spring of 1945, when U.S. forces landed on the island. Overall, more than 200,000 people were killed in the three-month battle, including civilians and Japanese and U.S. troops. Okinawa held a memorial ceremony on June 23 every year since then marking closure of the battle.
This year's anniversary came amid heightened tensions over the presence of U.S. bases rekindled by the rape and murder of a 20-year-old local woman by a U.S. military base worker who is also a former Marine.
Tens of thousands of people rallied Sunday in Naha, protesting against the incident and demanding removal of the U.S. military bases from the island.
Okinawa hosts some 75 percent of U.S. bases in Japan while accounting for less than 1 percent of the country's total land mass. Criminal cases involving U.S. military men repeatedly happened in Okinawa. In March, a U.S. Navy sailor was arrested after raping a woman in a hotel in Naha City, the capital of Okinawa.