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(UPDATING WITH CEREMONY, ABE'S REMARK)
Okinawa marked the 68th anniversary Sunday of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, a World War II ground battle that claimed more than 200,000 lives, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledging to ease the concentration of U.S. bases there.
A memorial service for the war dead was held at the Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman, the site of the final stage of the battle, with about 5,800 people including residents and government officials attending.
"I will do all I can to reduce the burden on Okinawa," Abe said in his speech at the ceremony, while Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima again urged the Japanese and the U.S. government to move the Futenma base out of the prefecture and "drastically revise as soon as possible" the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which gives special treatment to U.S. troops in Japan.
Antipathy toward U.S. bases has risen in Okinawa since the deployment in October last year of the crash-prone MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at Futenma Air Station.
A government-sponsored ceremony held on April 28 in Tokyo commemorating the day Japan recovered its sovereignty in 1952 after its defeat in World War II also angered Okinawa people, as the southernmost island prefecture remained under U.S. control for another 20 years.
Abe told reporters after the ceremony that he will make "more efforts" to eventually move the Futenma base out of Okinawa in the future.
Under an agreement between Tokyo and Washington, the Futenma base is to be relocated from the crowded city of Ginowan to the less-populated Henoko coastal area in Nago city within the prefecture.
Other attendees included Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, marking the first attendance by a U.S. ambassador since Walter Mondale in 1995.
It was also the first time for the foreign and defense ministers to attend the ceremony, at a time Abe's government has made little progress in easing Okinawa's burden of hosting U.S. bases.
This year, names of 62 war dead were newly inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace in the park, bringing the total to 241,227, regardless of nationality and military or civilian status.
The Battle of Okinawa started in the spring of 1945, when U.S. forces landed on the main islands of Okinawa and surrounding remote islands. Some 94,000 civilians, about a quarter of the residents in the prefecture, died in the three-month battle between Japanese and U.S. troops. The total death toll exceeded 200,000, including Americans.
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