Japan: criticism strong local U.S. military realignment

Plans to realign U.S. military forces in Japan triggered plans for protest rallies and drew harsh opposition from local officials and citizens' groups, who say the burden of hosting the troops is just being shifted from one community to another.

On Japan's southern island of Okinawa which hosts most of the 14,460 U.S. Marines in the country activists on Sunday planned a 5,000-strong rally to protest the crime, noise and pollution long associated with Marine bases, and to demand that more U.S. troops be moved out of Japan.

A day earlier, Washington and Tokyo agreed to strengthen military cooperation, reduce the number of Marines on Okinawa and give Japan more responsibility for security in the Pacific region.

But officials and activists from base-hosting communities around Japan said the plans which include major changes to U.S. military deployments in Japan would merely shift U.S. troops from some areas to others.

The U.S. plans to relocate a carrier jet and air squadrons from Tokyo to Yamaguchi's Iwakuni city.

Iwakuni's Mayor Katsusuke Ihara saying his city and others had not been included in the decision-making process.

Okinawa prefecture's Governor Keiichi Inamine had earlier criticized plans to transfer the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from one part of Okinawa's main island to reclaimed land off another part.

Inamine said he wanted to see U.S. bases moved off Okinawa altogether.

Environmentalists have said the planned project, using a landfill to create a runway, would destroy part of coral reef area that's home to the dugong, an endangered marine mammal.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the two countries would work together to reduce the impact of the U.S. military on Japanese communities, reported AP.

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