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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005, 02:45 GMT
Rape charges for American marines
Protesters outside the US embassy in Manila in November
Protests over the alleged rape have been small but vocal
Prosecutors in the Philippines have charged four US marines over the alleged rape of a 22-year-old woman after a visit to a bar.

Charges against two other marines were dropped while the Filipino who drove the van where the alleged rape happened was charged with being an accomplice.

Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni asked for the marines to be handed over by the US for detention without bail.

The four, who are in the custody of the US embassy in Manila, deny the charges.

Mr Jalandoni filed his charges at a court in the town of Olongapo, north-west of Manila, near where the alleged rape took place on 1 November.

'Heinous crime'

The Americans have denied participating in or witnessing the incident, which allegedly took place inside a van at Subic Bay free port, a former US naval base.

At least one of them did acknowledge having sex with the woman but said it was consensual, Mr Jalandoni said.

The van driver was first seen as a key witness but was later considered as a "co-conspirator", having apparently done nothing to stop the alleged rape, the prosecutor added.

While the US embassy has said it will co-operate with the investigation, it is unclear whether it will hand over the marines.

Mr Jalandoni said evidence suggested the two soldiers cleared were not in the van at the time of the alleged rape.

The Subic Bay authority said earlier that the alleged victim had been visiting a karaoke bar when she met the marines who then reportedly invited her to get into a rented van with them.

A few hours later, witnesses said they saw the woman being dumped from the van into a road.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo has called for the perpetrators of the "heinous crime" to be brought to justice.

According to press reports, the Philippine authorities briefly delayed the departure of a US warship while searching for the marines.

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