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Kan apologizes to Okinawa / Vows to ease prefecture's burden of hosting U.S. bases

Prime Minister Naoto Kan bows in front of the Heiwa no Hi flame at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on Wednesday.

NAHA--Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized and conveyed his gratitude to the people of Okinawa Prefecture for hosting extensive U.S. military facilities Wednesday on his first visit to the prefecture since taking office this month.

Speaking at a memorial service marking the 65th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, Kan said: "Representing the people of this country, I convey to you my apology. At the same time, I express my sincere gratitude for the fact that your burdens have helped maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

Kan also expressed his resolve to reduce the burdens shouldered by local governments and people.

"I pledge here to make increased, sincere efforts to reduce your burdens and eliminate the dangers [posed by the U.S. bases]," he said.

The ceremony was held at Peace Memorial Park on Mabuni no Oka hill in Itoman--the site of the last major land battle in World War II.

After the service, Kan told reporters that work to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within the prefecture would not start anytime soon.

"[The replacement facility's] construction won't start immediately after experts have completed reviewing [the facility's] construction method and other issues in August," Kan said. "I'd like to fully respect [the will of] local governments."

In a peace declaration at the memorial ceremony, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima reiterated the need to alleviate the burdens on people in his prefecture.

"Reducing the burden of hosting the bases and eliminating the danger of Futenma Air Station at an early date are issues people in this country have to tackle equally," he said.

Wednesday also marked the 50th anniversary of the enforcement of the current Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

"The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement took effect 50 years ago today," Nakaima added. "It is my wish that burdens on the people in the prefecture will be relieved in a visible way in this significant year."

The memorial ceremony was attended by about 5,500 people, including House of Representatives Speaker Takahiro Yokomichi, House of Councillors President Satsuki Eda and surviving family members of the war dead.

At noon, participants offered a one-minute silent prayer for the war dead.

During the ceremony, a high school student living near Futenma Air Station read a poem conveying his desire to live in an environment without the base.

This year, 80 names were newly inscribed on the Heiwa no Ishiji monument to those who died in the Battle of Okinawa and in other wars since 1931, raising the total number of names to 240,931.

(Jun. 24, 2010)
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