ITOMAN, Japan, June 23 (UPI) -- A silent tribute to the war dead turned rowdy in Okinawa when local protesters told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to "go home."
U.S. and Japanese officials were attending a memorial service commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa in Itoman, when protesters angered by the continued presence of a U.S. base on the island jeered Abe, the BBC reported.
It is highly unusual for the prime minister to be jeered in Japan, but Okinawa is the site of a contentious project to move a U.S. air base to the island's coast, from a more urban area in Okinawa.
Okinawa hosts 26,000 U.S. soldiers, and locals have said the base in their community has created problems, including crime and noise, The Independent reported.
Deep resentment of Tokyo persists in Japan's southernmost island that once ruled itself as an independent kingdom. In wartime, Japanese military commanders ordered many Okinawans to take their own lives. More than 100,000 Okinawans died during Japan's battles with Allied powers, and Okinawa was under U.S. occupation until 1972.
During the memorial service, when Abe neared the podium to address an audience of 5,000 that included U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, vocal protesters asked, "What are you doing here?" and urged Abe to "go home."
Abe has confirmed the coastal Okinawa base is not moving outside Japan, a sore point for Okinawans who still feel the war hasn't truly ended, according to Naeko Teruya, a representative of families who lost relatives during the battles.