Thousands of people in Japan have attended a rally against a US military base on Japan's Okinawa Island.

The Futenma base, located in a densely populated urban area, has emerged as a flashpoint for local opponents who have been angered by aircraft noise, pollution, and crimes committed by US service personnel.

The government of new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has suggested that it may want the base moved off the island or even out of the country.

The planned protest comes just days before President Barack Obama visits Tokyo.

Opposition has often flared locally against the large US military presence on the southern island, strategically located within easy reach of China, Taiwan and North Korea and dubbed the US' 'unsinkable aircraft carrier'.

But the election of a new centre-left government in Tokyo in September, ending decades of conservative rule, has brought the issue to the centre of national politics and strained Japan's most important security alliance.

‘I urge Prime Minister (Yukio) Hatoyama to tell President Obama that Okinawa needs no more US bases,’ said Ginowan mayor Yoichi Iha at the rally.

‘I urge Prime Minister Hatoyama to make a brave decision and put an end to Okinawa's burden and ordeal.’

Protestors, from elderly people wearing straw hats to young families carrying babies, applauded the mayor's speech in a park near the controversial US Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Ginowan city.

Organisers expected more than 30,000 people at the event, which comes ahead of Mr Obama's visit to Tokyo on Friday and Saturday.