Anger in Japan as US sailors arrested for rape

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The Independent Online

Japan's Defence Minister says he is deeply concerned by allegations that two American military servicemen had raped a woman on the island of Okinawa.

"This is a very serious crime," Satoshi Morimoto said yesterday. Mr Morimoto said the case follows another sexual assault in August, and he indicated he was considering discussing the matter with Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary.

Okinawan police arrested Seaman Christopher Browning and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, both aged 23, on Tuesday.

According to Japanese media reports, they had been drinking before they allegedly attacked the woman, in her 20s, who was on her way home before dawn.

The arrests sparked immediate anger on Okinawa, which hosts more than half of the 47,000 US troops in Japan and has recently seen massive protests against plans to deploy Osprey helicopters to a base there because of safety concerns.

Tensions between the US military and their Okinawan hosts are endemic, and base-related crimes are a particularly sensitive issue. Local opposition to the US bases over noise, safety concerns and crime flared into mass protests after the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three American servicemen.

That outcry eventually led to an agreement to close a major airfield, but that plan has stalled for more than a decade over where a replacement facility can be located.