Marines charged with rape of Japanese woman
TOKYO (Reuters) - Four U.S. Marines based in southwest Japan have been charged with raping a Japanese woman last October, a U.S. military spokesman said on Friday, days after the arrest of another Marine for suspected rape of a schoolgirl on the southern island of Okinawa.
U.S. military authorities at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station are holding hearings to determine whether the four Marines, aged 20 to 39, should face courts martial for the suspected rape of the woman, who was 19 at the time.
Japanese police had decided last year not to proceed with a case against the four over the incident, which Japanese media said occurred in a car at a car park in nearby Hiroshima City after the Marines met the young woman at an event hall.
"The hearing is on today and is expected to possibly roll over until tomorrow," an Iwakuni air station spokesman said, adding that it could take some time before a decision on possible courts martial was made.
On Monday, Japanese police arrested a U.S. Marine stationed on Okinawa -- where many residents have long resented being host to the bulk of the U.S. troops in Japan -- on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old schoolgirl.
The Marine, 38-year-old Tyrone Hadnott, has denied raping the girl but acknowledged forcing her to kiss him, an Okinawa police spokesman has said.
Japan is host to about 50,000 US. military personnel as part of the bilateral security alliance, but friction often occurs with communities near the bases because of concern about crime, accidents and noise.
The latest incident on Okinawa has triggered memories of the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen that sparked huge protests on the island and raised concerns about damage to the broader security relationship.
The U.S. ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, flew to Okinawa this week in an effort to soothe anger over the episode, which comes as Tokyo tries to persuade Okinawa residents to accept a plan to move the Marines' Futenma air base from the crowded city of Ginowan to the coastal city of Nago, part of a broader plan to move about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
On Thursday, the top commander of the U.S forces in Japan told reporters the military had set up a task force to review and strengthen programs to prevent sexual harassment and assault.
"It is our job to do everything we can to restore the confidence of the Japanese people in the U.S. forces stationed here in Japan," Lieutenant General Bruce Wright said.
Last Sunday, the mayor of Iwakuni city lost a re-election bid he had hoped would give him a mandate to battle on against a U.S.-Japan plan to expand a U.S. Marine base in the city.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Mike Miller)