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The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Okinawa
"Local politicians warn of an angry reaction if American military personnel are found to have been involved"
 real 56k

Saturday, 30 June, 2001, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
US sergeant quizzed over Okinawa rape
Demonstrators hold hands in a human chain around a US airbase
Many Okinawans resent the US military presence
Police in Japan again called in a US serviceman for questioning about the rape of a Japanese woman on the southern island of Okinawa.

We need to prevent unnecessary friction or bad feelings between the Japanese people and the US forces. And we need strict vigilance against crimes.

PM Koizumi
A US military spokeswoman declined to identify the suspect, but said he was an Air Force sergeant in his 20s assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base.

Japanese police said they had further questions for the man after a session on Friday. He has denied raping the woman, they said.

Police said they were also interviewing four other servicemen who were seen leaving in a car from the scene of the alleged attack, which happened early on Friday.

The woman, who is in her 20s, told the authorities she was surrounded by several foreign men in a car park in the central town of Chatan and that one of them raped her.

Anti-American sentiment

The incident was front-page news in both local newspapers in Okinawa, where there is considerable pressure for a reduction in the huge US military presence.

map of Okinawa
Local politicians have warned that the case could trigger yet more anti-American sentiment in Okinawa if US military personnel are found to be involved.

People on Okinawa are already angry at a string of sexual attacks by US servicemen, including the 1995 gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl.

The governor of Okinawa has called for a reduction in US troops and asked for a revision to a US-Japan military pact that prevents American servicemen from being handed to local police except when the crime is serious.

During his flight to Washington Mr Koizumi told reporters: "We need to prevent unnecessary friction or bad feelings between the Japanese people and the US forces. And we need strict vigilance against crimes."

Mr Koizumi is in favour of close military ties with the United States, but he has been under pressure to push for a reduction in the American military presence in Okinawa.

The United States says the Okinawa bases, within striking distance of China and the Korean Peninsula, are essential for its security strategy in Asia and the Pacific.

Okinawa, 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo, is home to around two-thirds of the 47,000 US troops stationed in Japan.

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