Okinawa City, Japan The new U.S. ambassador expressed regret Tuesday for the alleged rape of an Okinawan woman by an American serviceman, while Japanese police waited for the U.S. military to hand over the suspect, an Air Force sergeant.
Former Sen. Howard Baker was barely off the plane Tuesday to take up his posting as U.S. envoy in Tokyo when he conveyed President Bush's contrition over the incident.
"President Bush said that we express our regret, our sincere regret," Baker told reporters on the tarmac at Narita International Airport. Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, the top U.S. officer on Okinawa, visited the prefectural (state) government office and also apologized.
Baker is the husband of former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, R-Kan.
The handover of the suspect, who police say has denied any involvement in the rape, was held in limbo by consultations between Tokyo and Washington. With the wait, anger among Okinawans was rising to the surface.
Yasuo Fukuda, Japan's top government spokesman, said Japan has formally requested the suspect's transfer from U.S. military custody. He said a U.S. response was expected sometime Tuesday, but by midnight none was announced.
In Washington, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said there had been no final decision on whether or when to turn the suspect over to Japanese authorities.
The Asahi Shimbun said in its edition this morning that U.S.-Japan discussions over the handover were slowed by the time difference between their capitals, but that the sergeant's arrest had become imminent. Other major newspapers carried similar reports. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of Washington, D.C.
The town government in Chatan adopted a resolution condemning the crime at a special session Tuesday. The document, approved by the 22-member Chatan assembly, also included a request to the U.S. military for a nighttime curfew in the town covering troops and a ban on drinking alcohol by them.
The town was also considering forming a citizens patrol to safeguard against crimes by U.S. servicemen, Kyodo News agency reported.
Students at Okinawa's Ryukyu University planned to stage a protest today against the suspected attack outside of the U.S. Marines' Futenma Airbase.