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Japan protests alleged rape case by US sailor on Okinawa

Japan has protested to the United States over an alleged rape by an American sailor on Okinawa, renewing ill feelings on the southern island that sees the U.S. military presence there as a heavy and unfair burden.
People hold banners as they listen to a speaker during a rally against a new US military base in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, in front of the National Diet on Feb. 21, 2016, in Tokyo.

TOKYO - A U.S. serviceman was arrested Sunday on suspicion of raping a Japanese woman on the island of Okinawa, where delicate negotiations are underway to relocate a controversial U.S. military base.

Navy sailor Justin Castellanos, 24, is accused of taking the woman to his hotel room in the Okinawa capital of Naha and raping her after finding her asleep in the corridor, Kyodo News service said, quoting police. The woman, in her 40s, was visiting from the island of Kyushu in southern Japan, according to the report.

Castellanos denied the accusation, Kyodo said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the arrest was extremely regrettable. The government demanded Washington tighten discipline among U.S. personnel.

Rapes and other crimes by U.S. servicemen on Okinawa have generated widespread protests against the U.S. military presence there. Some 25,000 U.S. troops, mostly Marines, are based on Okinawa. It is the largest concentration of U.S. forces in Japan.

Three U.S. servicemen were convicted in 1995 of kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old girl on her way home from school in Okinawa. The incident sparked massive protests and led to negotiations to reduce the U.S. military presence on Okinawa. The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific was forced to resign shortly afterward for making comments that appeared to make light of the incident.

In 2012, two U.S. Navy reservists were given long prison sentences by a Japanese court for stalking and raping a Japanese woman they had met at an Okinawa bar.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration has been engaged in a long battle to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps airbase at Futenma, which is located in a densely populated part of the island. The local governor wants the base moved off the island completely. Negotiations resumed this month after both sides agreed to drop lawsuits over the relocation plan.

According to the Kyodo report, Castellanos is based at Camp Schwab, in the town of Henoko, where U.S. and Japanese authorities plan to relocate the Futenma base. The plan includes expanding Camp Schwab and filling in part of an adjacent bay, which has provoked large and sometimes violent protests.

About half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are based in Okinawa, and its residents complain about noise and crime from the bases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report