West News Wire: As local fears grow that the southern Japanese islands will get caught up in regional military tension, Okinawa marked the 77th anniversary of the conclusion of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II on Thursday and the governor called for a further reduction of the U.S. military presence there.

Nearly half of those killed in the Battle of Okinawa were Okinawan citizens. The local populace was essentially sacrificed by Japan’s wartime military in order to prevent a U.S. landing on the main islands.

Many residents of Okinawa are concerned about Japan’s expanding use of amphibious capabilities and missile defence on outlying islands that are close to geopolitical flashpoints like Taiwan.

At a ceremony marking the June 23, 1945, end of the battle, about 300 attendants in Okinawa, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other officials, offered a moment of silence at noon and placed chrysanthemums for the war dead. The number of attendants was scaled down because of coronavirus worries.

At the ceremony in Itoman city on Okinawa’s main island, Gov. Denny Tamaki spoke of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the destruction of towns, buildings and the local culture, as well as Ukrainians’ constant fear, “remind us of our memory of the ground battle on Okinawa that embroiled citizens 77 years ago.”

“We are struck by unspeakable shock,” he said.

Tamaki also vowed to continue efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and renounce war “in order to never let Okinawa become a battlefield.”

In May, Okinawa marked the 50th anniversary of its reversion to Japan in 1972, two decades after the U.S. occupation ended in most of the country.

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Today, a majority of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and 70% of U.S. military facilities are still in Okinawa, which accounts for only 0.6% of Japanese land.

Because of the U.S. bases, Okinawa faces noise, pollution, accidents and crime related to American troops, Tamaki said.

Kishida acknowledged the need for more government efforts to reduce Okinawa’s burden from U.S. military bases as well as more support for the islands’ economic development, which fell behind during their 27-year U.S. occupation.

Resentment and frustration run deep in Okinawa over the heavy U.S. presence and Tokyo’s lack of efforts to negotiate with Washington to balance the security burden between mainland Japan and the southern island group.

Kishida, citing the worsening security environment in regional seas in the face of threats from China, North Korea and Russia, has pledged to bolster Japan’s military capability and budget in coming years, including enemy attack capabilities that critics say interfere with Japan’s pacifist Constitution.

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