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Warrant issued in Okinawan rape

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OKINAWA CITY, Japan — After four days of intense questioning, police obtained an arrest warrant Monday for a U.S. Air Force sergeant suspected of raping an Okinawan woman in a parking lot outside a row of bars.

The technical sergeant, who is stationed at Kadena Air Base, will be arrested after consultations between Japanese authorities and U.S. military officials, said Tomomitsu Higa, an Okinawa prefectural police spokesman. It was not clear when that would be.

The man, whose name has not been released, has denied the charges. But if his case goes to trial, he would face an uphill battle in Japanese courts. Japan has a conviction rate of more than 90 percent.

The case has been front-page news on Okinawa, where crimes over the years by American servicemen — including the rape of a schoolgirl in 1995 — have fanned opposition to the large U.S. military presence.

According to local police, an Okinawan woman in her 20s says she was accosted and raped by the American last Friday at about 2 a.m., after drinking with friends at a nightclub. Other Americans were reportedly at the scene and may have tried to stop the crime, though there were conflicting accounts regarding that point.

Okinawan police investigating the allegations met Monday afternoon with U.S. military investigators to discuss the case. "We agreed to try to conclude the investigation quickly," said Koshin Iraha, head of the police precinct here, where the suspect has been questioned.

James Onusko, commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at Kadena Air Base, declined to comment because the investigation was still under way.

The prefectural assembly was reportedly planning to issue a statement condemning the alleged rape, and a local mayor was planning to demand a curfew on U.S. servicemen.

But the reaction of the public on this semitropical island, the largest of a chain between Taiwan and Japan's main islands, has been surprisingly subdued.

"I have very mixed feelings about this whole thing," said Shuichi Ikei, who works at American Depot, one of the many boutiques in American Village.

"We have a lot of American customers, and most of them are friendly and cause no trouble," he said. "But it's happened again."

The reaction this time is a sharp contrast to six years ago, when tens of thousands of Okinawans turned out in the streets to protest the military presence here after three servicemen were arrested and later convicted for raping a 12-year-old schoolgirl and abandoning her on a lonely rural road.