OKINAWA CITY, Japan – Investigators were questioning a U.S. Air Force sergeant for a second day Saturday to determine his role in the alleged rape of a Japanese woman in Okinawa, a police spokesman said.
Police were also interviewing several witnesses to the alleged attack, which happened early Friday not far from several U.S. military bases, said a police spokesman on condition of anonymity.
The suspect, who has not been charged with a crime, has denied involvement during the questioning, the spokesman said. The Pentagon said the suspect had been drinking with the woman the evening of the alleged attack, but police said the woman denied this.
The woman, who is in her 20s, told authorities on Friday she was surrounded by several foreign men and that one of them raped her.
The incident was front-page news in both local newspapers in Okinawa, where a spate of crimes over the years by American servicemen has stoked public opposition to the large U.S. military presence on the island.
"We are not going to stand for this violence," said Akira Nakane, 69, a retired Okinawa prefectural (state) councilman. "I would rather have them (the military) off the island.
"I understand that this may not have been a Marine but as long as American bases occupy 10 percent of our land, there will be problems."
The alleged rape took place just a day before President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi were to hold talks at Camp David. The reduction in the U.S. military presence on Okinawa was expected to be a main topic of discussion.
In an editorial Saturday, the Okinawa Times continued its long-standing call for fewer U.S. troops on the island.
"We hope that Prime Minister Koizumi in his summit talks will tell the United States that the only solution is the reduction and withdrawal of the Marines. Many experts have pointed out that from the military standpoint this is possible," the paper said.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said Friday that an Air Force technical sergeant at the Kadena Air Base was suspected of the rape, adding that the man and the woman had been drinking together before the incident. Kadena is the largest U.S. defense facility in Asia.
Police said on Saturday, however, that the woman told them she had been drinking with a friend and that she was approached by a group of men including the suspect when she went out to the parking lot.
He was returned to U.S. military custody on Friday after being questioned by Okinawan police. He was questioned again on Saturday.
As many as seven other American service personnel from the Air Force and Marines were also questioned, most as possible witnesses, Davis said.
Kadena Air Base was open Saturday for the annual Amerifest, and the police presence was heavier than usual around the base as an estimated 250,000 visitors were expected over the next two days.
Base officials said they had no intention of canceling the annual event despite the concerns over possible protests.
"This is very disappointing," said Shigehiro Nakasone, a 59-year-old pharmacist who lives near the base. "These kind of things happen because the U.S. troops are so concentrated on Okinawa and not spread out evenly throughout Japan.
"I don't think the U.S. troops should all be withdrawn, but there should be a reduction in their presence."
Okinawa, located 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, is home to nearly two-thirds of the 47,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan. of many that will continue as long as the American military people are here."