The US navy said on Monday it imposed an alcohol ban on its personnel in Japan as the Tokyo government condemned a military drink-driving case which fuelled growing opposition to US bases on Okinawa.
The United States has come under renewed pressure to rein in bad behaviour after a base employee was arrested last month for allegedly abandoning the body of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman whom police suspect was raped and murdered.
Crimes by US personnel have long sparked protests on the crowded strategic island and have been an irritant in relations between the allies.
US President Barack Obama last month vowed measures to prevent crime by Americans and the military imposed restrictions including a curfew.
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But a naval officer was arrested at the weekend after allegedly driving the wrong way down a street while intoxicated and injuring two people, one seriously, according to Okinawan police.
US sailors stationed throughout the country are banned from drinking, both on and off base, for an undetermined period and will also be subject to other restrictions, US Naval Forces Japan said in a statement “For decades, we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan,” Matthew Carter, the naval commander in Japan, said in the release.
“It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship, and the US-Japan alliance as a whole.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told government officials and ruling party lawmakers the drink-driving case “is
extremely deplorable… as it happened right after (the US) said they would make efforts to strengthen discipline”, Jiji Press reported.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga called the incident “egregious”.
It came as Okinawans voted yesterday in elections for the local legislature, showing overwhelming support for incumbent governor Takeshi Onaga who wants a key US base in a crowded city removed from the island.
But Suga shrugged off the vote’s impact on a Japan-US agreement to relocate the installation to another part of Okinawa, reiterating the government’s position that it is the “only solution”.
Okinawans are planning a major rally later this month in protest at the bases as well as the behaviour of US personnel.
More than half the 47,000 American troops in Japan under a decades-long security alliance are stationed on Okinawa, the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island.