Japan protests over alleged rape by US sailor in Okinawa

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Tokyo demands US tighten discipline of military personnel stationed in Japan after sailor arrested in prefecture where governor opposes plan to relocate US base

TOKYO – Japan’s government announced Monday that it protested to the United States over an alleged rape by an American sailor in Okinawa, where the governor has been opposing a plan to relocate a U.S. base within the southern prefecture.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the alleged rape of a Japanese tourist at a hotel in Okinawa’s capital Naha was “extremely regrettable”.

Kyodo News agency quoted him saying that the central government “demanded that the United States tighten discipline [among U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan] and prevent a recurrence of such incidents.”

He said the protest by the Foreign and Defense ministries was filed with the U.S. Embassy and U.S. forces stationed in the country Sunday afternoon, adding that U.S. officials assured that they took the case seriously.

The 24-year-old suspect – Justin Castellanos, a seaman at the U.S. Navy’s Camp Schwab – was arrested Sunday on suspicion of committing the crime earlier in the day, but has denied the allegation.

The people of Okinawa have long felt oppressed by hosting around two-thirds of the entire U.S. military establishment in Japan since the end of World War II, and Governor Takeshi Onaga won the gubernatorial election in Nov. 2014 with a pledge to oppose a base relocation.

Okinawa and Tokyo have been engaged in a long-running legal feud over the process of moving Futenma Air Station from densely populated Ginowan city to reclaimed land on the less populated shore of Henoko.

Onaga wants the base moved out of the prefecture entirely.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had announced that the legal feud had ended with both sides opting to discuss a court-mediated settlement plan.

Onaga expressed displeasure Monday over the alleged rape, describing it as “a serious crime in violation of women’s human rights” that “can never be tolerated”.

Kyodo quoted him telling reporters in Naha, “I feel strong resentment.”

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