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Helicopter flights resume despite local protests

Date Posted: 2004-08-20

Military helicopters returned to the skies over Ginowan Monday, despite a protest by Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha.

The CH-53D helicopters had been grounded over the weekend after one crashed Friday afternoon.

Brigadier General James Flock, Marine Corps Bases Okinawa commander, met Iha to receive his protest over the incident where a helicopter crashed onto the campus of Okinawa International University. Flock apologized for the accident, but told Iha then that the flights of other aircraft would resume after they’d been inspected for safety.

Protests already have begun over the accident, and more are expected as the investigation continues. Some demonstrators are calling for an unconditional return of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Japan.

Mayor Iha issued a strong protest about the accident, telling the general “Futenma is a faulty air station. What we want is for the U.S. military not to operate such a dangerous base.”

A KC-130 transport plane was first off the runway Monday at Futenma as flights resumed. More than 600 residents had gathered to issue protests, and watch the base activities.

Residents want Futenma closed, and the base moved. Plans for such a move are in the works, but the Futenma closure is at least a decade away.

Mayor Iha acknowledges the timeline, but is calling for immediate closure by realigning the base’s functions among other existing bases, including Kadena Air Base. He reiterated his position to Vic Governor Hirotaka Makino over the weekend.

“As long as the Futenma base exists,” he said, “accidents will happen.” Iha is urging the prefecture to pressure Tokyo for immediate action to close the base.

Governor Keiichi Inamine was to meet Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi this week to discuss the issue, as he returns from a business trip to South America. The Governor is also scheduled to visit the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

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