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Friday, Sept. 26, 2008
Protests greet nuclear carrier at its new home in Yokosuka
By JUN HONGO
YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. — The USS George Washington arrived at its new home Thursday, becoming the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be forward-deployed outside the United States.
Hundreds of slogan-shouting protesters lined the harbor and took to boats as the giant warship pulled into Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, while flag-waving supporters crowded the dock at the U.S. naval base.
The 102,000-ton, 332-meter warship arrived at 10 a.m., greeted by the crew's family members and performances by the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet Band and the Maritime Self-Defense Force band.
"It is altogether fitting that a ship bearing the name of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived has been sent to protect one of the greatest relationships America has ever had," U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said in front of the aircraft carrier during a welcoming ceremony.
Secretary of the U.S. Navy Donald Winter expressed gratitude for Japan's cooperation in ensuring regional safety, including its antiterrorism efforts in Afghanistan.
"The contributions of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, particularly in your leading role in refueling coalition ships at sea in Operation Enduring Freedom, have been critical" to the global fight against terrorism, Winter said.
The George Washington is the fourth U.S. carrier to be stationed in Yokosuka, following the Kitty Hawk, the Midway and the Independence.
It is powered by two nuclear reactors and can reach a top speed of more than 30 knots within minutes. The ship's arrival in Japan was delayed by a shipboard fire in May.
It carries about 75 aircraft, can accommodate a crew of up to 6,250 and serves 18,000 meals daily, according to the U.S. Navy.
Foreign Minister Yasufumi Nakasone welcomed the arrival of the carrier and its positive effect on the Japanese-U.S. alliance.
The deployment symbolizes "the firm commitment of the United States to the alliance," Nakasone said in a message.
Meanwhile, at nearby Umikaze Park, some 450 people gathered to protest the George Washington's arrival. They shouted "We won't make Yokosuka the base for a war" and held banners reading "No nuclear-powered aircraft carrier."
On the sea near the base, some 40 people, some from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa, held a rally using 12 boats.
The demonstrators say the ship poses a threat because of its nuclear power plant.
They also are opposed to the increase in sailors as a result of the George Washington replacing the older and slightly smaller Kitty Hawk, and say that the carrier could make Yokosuka a target if hostilities break out between the U.S. and another country.
Information from Kyodo, AP added