NAHA : Okinawa on Tuesday marked the 75th anniversary of the end of a major World War II ground battle that claimed over 200,000 lives, including large numbers of local civilians as well as Japanese and U.S. combatants.
The annual memorial service was held on a scaled-down basis at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of the final stage of the Battle of Okinawa, without the attendance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other officials this time in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Abe sent a video message to the ceremony instead.
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Only invited participants who live in Okinawa Prefecture were allowed to attend the ceremony to curb the spread of the virus. Last year, over 5,000 people attended.
The prefecture initially planned for the first time to invite the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two Japanese cities devastated by U.S. atomic bombings in the closing stage of the war, and a representative from the United Nations, but canceled the plan amid the pandemic. They will, however, also send video messages.
Approximately 94,000 civilians, about a quarter of Okinawa’s population at that time, as well as over 94,000 Japanese soldiers and some 12,500 U.S. troops died in the fighting that ran from March through June 1945, according to the government of the southern Japan prefecture.
Okinawa accounts for about 70 percent of the total acreage exclusively used by U.S. military facilities in Japan, despite the prefecture only representing 0.6 percent of the country’s land.
Okinawa has opposed a central government plan to move a U.S. base currently located in a crowded residential area to elsewhere in the prefecture, calling for shifting the base out of Okinawa altogether.
But Tokyo and Washington have already agreed to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
In a prefectural assembly election this month, a bloc opposed to keeping the base in Okinawa retained a majority, reflecting strong local sentiment against Abe and his administration.