Okinawa City, Japan Thousands of protesters formed a human chain around the gates of a U.S. air base Thursday as leaders of the world's industrial powers and Russia assembled on this World War II battleground island to discuss narrowing the gap between rich and poor countries.
En route to the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin picked up North Korea and China as allies in his campaign to derail American plans to build an anti-missile nuclear shield.
President Clinton set aside his Mideast peacemaking efforts at Camp David, Md., to take part in his farewell summit of the Group of Eight.
"The Okinawa summit will create a framework to fight infectious disease, increase access to basic education and expand opportunity through information technology," Clinton said on the way to the meeting. "Despite a stronger global economy, too many people around the world live every day without essential health care, basic literacy or the opportunity to share in the benefits of modern technology."
His first event was a speech to the people of Okinawa at the island's Peace Park, where a monument's black walls bear the names of 237,318 soldiers -- Japanese, American and British -- and civilians who perished in the island's ferocious 82-day World War II battle.
So fierce was the fighting that it convinced President Harry S. Truman that he had no alternative to using the atom bomb against Japan.
The heavy American military presence on Okinawa today -- 30,000 servicemen and women are stationed here -- was the target of one of the island's largest protests in years.
Organizers claimed more than 25,000 people had mobilized in a human chain stretching 11 miles around Kadena Air Base. Some 22,000 police, most flown in from other parts of Japan, were deployed, but no violence was reported.
Protesters -- many of them accompanied by their children -- wore headbands with anti-base slogans, and organizers yelled into loudspeakers, "Clinton, take your troops home," and "We don't want your troops."
"As teachers, we have vowed never to send our students to war again," said Isao Kaneshiro, head of a local teachers' union. "I want President Clinton to know that we don't want his troops here."
Okinawa -- located near the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, China and southeast Asia -- is considered by U.S. officials to be of crucial strategic importance. But many Okinawans feel the U.S. presence is too heavy, and want it reduced or eliminated.
On the Net: The official G8 summit site: http://www.g8kyushu-okinawa.go.jp