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OKINAWANS RALLY TO PROTEST U.S. PRESENCE

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Okinawans converged on a seaside park here on Saturday for what is expected to be the biggest-ever protest against the U.S. military presence on this southern Japanese island.

The protest, sparked by the Sept. 4 rape of a 12-year-old girl, for which three U.S. servicemen face trial in Okinawa next month, is spearheaded by political leaders from all major parties."Today we will broadcast to the whole world that Okinawans are angry," said Okinawa assemblyman Yoshikazu Tamaki, chief coordinator of Saturday's rally.

Organizers said they expect 50,000 people to show up to back their appeal to the Japanese and U.S. governments to apologize to and compensate the victim, tighten troop discipline, end privileges enjoyed by U.S. troops and cut the number of bases on the island.

Although the immediate reason for the rally is the rape case, Okinawans deeply resent that their small island is home to a large number of U.S. forces.