TOKYO, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of Okinawa residents in southern Japan rallied on Saturday to oppose a relocation plan of a U.S. air base within the prefecture.
Some 10,000 protesters gathered at a park in the prefectural capital of Naha, demanding the Japanese and U.S. governments halt a plan to move the Futenma base from the Ginowan region to the less densely populated coastal area of Henoko, which is also on the island.
The Okinawans, suffering from crime, pollution and accidents related to the U.S. bases and personnel on the tiny subtropical island, wish to see the Futenma base move outside of Okinawa and Japan altogether.
Last month, more than 70 percent of local voters rejected the central government's relocation plan in a referendum, but the Japanese government decided to continue with the replacement construction, dismissing the outcome of the referendum as unbinding.
"We would like to advance the new base construction work, while explaining the necessity of the relocation plan to the Okinawa people in a polite and cordial manner to seek their understanding," said Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya in February.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, yet the island accounts for just a small fraction of Japan's total landmass, meaning local residents are intensely affected by military activities and the presence of U.S. base-linked personnel living and working on the island.