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Obama set for strife with base argument -

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ELEANOR HALL: The US President, Barack Obama will leave the US and the intricacies of the health
care debate and begin a tour of Asia this week. But he'll fly straight into a storm about American
military bases in Japan.

Tens of thousands of Japanese people have rallied on the main island of Okinawa to protest against
a controversial US base. And the new centre-left Government in Tokyo says the issue will not be
resolved before President Obama lands in Japan later this week.

North Asia correspondent, Mark Willacy has our report.

(Sounds of school children playing)

MARK WILLACY: As the children of Ginowan elementary school play, a US Cobra attack helicopter
sweeps low overhead. The school is right next door to the Futenma air base - one of more than a
dozen US military bases which are dotted all over Okinawa.

(Ginowan school boy talking)

"The jets fly very low over our school," this boy says. "They're so loud it's enough to burst our

(Ginowan classroom sounds)

Inside the classroom, teacher Michiko Shimoji is encouraging her students to discuss the
controversial air base next door. Like more than 70 per cent of Okinawans, she'd like to see it off
the island.

(Michiko Shimoji talking)

"I just can't help thinking what would happen to the kids if a jet crashed into the school," she
says. "I just can't get that out of my mind".

And there's a good reason for that. Five years ago a US helicopter crashed into the grounds of an
Okinawa university - luckily no-one was killed. But Okinawans reacted with fury in 1995 when three
American servicemen raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

(Sound of a Ginowan rally)

At a rally in Ginowan, more than 20,000 Japanese turned up to call for the US base to be moved off
the island.

"No other place in the world has had US troops stationed there as long as Okinawa," says Ginowan
Mayor Yoichi Iha. "Okinawa has suffered for too long" he says.

The Japanese and US Governments agreed a few years ago to move the Futenma base to another part of
Okinawa but the new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has signalled he'd like the base off Okinawa and
maybe out of Japan altogether and that has infuriated Washington.

It has put intense strain on Japan's most important security alliance and has put a cloud over US
President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo later this week.

(Sounds of school children playing)

Back at the Ginowan elementary school, a US F-16 fighter jet screams over the playground.

(Michiko Shimoji talking)

"My key question is why my students have to bear such a heavy burden," says teacher Michiko
Shimoji. "It's time for the Japanese Government to do something," she says.

Okinawa has long been called the United States 'unsinkable aircraft carrier'. The problem is, the
vast majority of Okinawa's 1.4 million Japanese inhabitants would like the Americans to sail off
into the sunset.

This is Mark Willacy in Tokyo for The World Today.