Tens of thousands of protesters gathered throughout Japan on Sunday demanding that U.S. military forces withdraw from the island nation. Stars and Stripes reports that 7,000 of the protesters amassed outside the Japanese parliament building while 65,000 crammed into a sports arena in Okinawa.
The outcry follows a series of incidents involving U.S. servicemembers against local Japanese citizens in recent years. In May, a former U.S. Marine and current base contractor at Kadena Air Base admitted to strangling a Japanese woman to death. The murder of Rina Shimabukuo intensified calls from Japanese citizens for the United States to remove its 50,000 troops. A U.S. Navy sailor was arrested in March after being accused of raping a Japanese tourist.
In March, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shocked Japanese leadership when he argued that U.S. troops should be pulled from Japan and replaced with nuclear weapons. Trump suggested that the costs of stationing troops in Japan outweigh the benefits in an interview with the New York Times.
Contrary to Trump and the protesters’ advocacy for troop withdrawal, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remain committed to maintaining a regional military partnership.
The protests come just one month after Obama traveled to Japan as the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. During his visit, Obama reaffirmed his support for U.S. forces in Japan.
“The alliance between the United States and Japan is a critical foundation for the security of both of our countries. That alliance has also helped to fortify peace and security throughout the region,” Obama told reporters gathered in Ise-Shima, Japan.
Since the enactment of Japan’s Constitution in 1947, the Japanese have been legally forbidden from making war. Article 9 renounces the use of military of force to settle international disputes, but has since been interpreted to permit a military for homeland defense.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been a leading voice calling for revisions to Article 9, but faces massive opposition in Japan’s Parliament.
Given the tension surrounding Japan’s territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the rising challenge to settle them, Abe’s support for the U.S. military presence remains firm.
“Whoever will become the next president of the United States, the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy,” Abe announced early this year.
The governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, has demanded that Abe remove U.S. troops from the island. Onaga spoke as part of the protest Sunday stating, “The government should know that the anger of the people in Okinawa is almost reaching a limit and it is not [right] to sacrifice Okinawa people for military bases anymore.”
There are 26,000 U.S. troops in Okinawa, according to the BBC.