Police in Okinawa, Japan Tuesday awaited formal permission from Tokyo and Washington to arrest a U.S. serviceman accused of raping a woman.
Authorities Monday obtained an arrest warrant for the suspect, Timothy Woodland, a U.S. Air Force technical sergeant stationed at Kadena Air Base, after several days of intense questioning.
They said they hoped to arrest Woodland, who was brought in for a fifth day of questioning Tuesday, as soon as possible, but had to await the completion of delicate diplomatic procedures for him to be officially turned over by the U.S. military. It was unclear how long that process might take.
If Woodland, who has denied the allegations, is turned over to police here, he would be the first American military suspect released to Okinawan authorities prior to the filing of actual charges.
According to police, Woodland, 24, forced the woman up against a car in a parking lot of American Village, a trendy tourist area, last Friday at about 2 a.m.
Police said he then began raping her. Other Americans were nearby, and may have intervened on behalf of the victim, police said.
They said the other Americans, also service personnel, were not suspected of wrongdoing.
The new U.S. ambassador to Japan, former U.S. Sen. Howard H. Baker, arrived Tuesday, saying that President Bush has expressed his "sincere regret" over the alleged rape. Baker said Bush has promised his "full cooperation in finding out the facts" of the crime.
"This is a vicious crime that violates human rights, and is absolutely unforgivable," Keiichi Inamine, Okinawa's governor, said of the alleged rape.
Complaints over military-related crime are endemic here, and Japanese officials, concerned that anger on this southern Japan island could escalate, have called for swift action.
Yasuo Fukuda, Japan's top government spokesman, said in Tokyo that Japan has formally requested that Woodland be handed over and that a response from the U.S. side was expected sometime Tuesday.
If the case goes to trial, Woodland would face an uphill battle in Japanese courts. Japan has a conviction rate of more than 90 percent.
Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, the senior U.S. officer on Okinawa, visited the Okinawa prefectural government office and apologized about the incident.
"We are very disappointed, and deeply and sincerely regret that this concerns the U.S. troops," he said, adding that he had directed commanders to instill discipline. "We have been working closely and cooperating fully during the investigation, and I assure you we will continue to do so."
The town assembly in Chatan, where the rape allegedly occurred, adopted a resolution of protest condemning the crime at a special session Tuesday. The resolution, adopted by the 22-member assembly, also included a request to the U.S. military for a nighttime curfew in the town covering troops and a ban on alcohol.
Okinawans have long complained that the bases, while making a considerable contribution to the sagging local economy, cause crowding problems and create fears of possible accidents.
Crime is also a long-standing source of friction.
In 1995, a 12-year-old schoolgirl was raped by three U.S. servicemen, touching off huge anti-base demonstrations that eventually led to an agreement to streamline the military presence here.
So far, the current case has not generated such anger.
A group of a few dozen protesters, mostly leftist labor union members and college students, held a peaceful demonstration outside the Kadena Air Base gates Tuesday, but there were no other protests and no reports of any incidents.
Washington and Tokyo agree that the 26,000 troops on Okinawa are a key factor in assuring the stability of the region. The troops — including the largest contingent of Marines outside the United States — are within close range of China, Taiwan, North Korea, Russia and Southeast Asia.
To Okinawans, the presence is a crucial source of income, pumping billions of dollars into an otherwise stagnant economy that relies heavily on tourism. But it remains a sensitive issue.
Okinawa was used as a last-ditch line of Japan's defense against the Allies; the island was one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of World War II. About a third of its civilian population died.
It was governed by the United States from 1945 to 1972, although the occupation of Japan's main islands ended in 1952. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. troops in Japan are in Okinawa, which makes up less than 1 percent of Japan's total area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.