• Kyodo

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Some 100 citizens held a rally on Saturday in front of the headquarters of U.S. Marines in the village of Kitanakagusuku, central Okinawa, to protest the alleged molestation incident in the prefecture last Monday of a 14-year-old girl by a U.S. Marine.

At the gathering, organized by a women’s civic group in the prefecture, many participants claimed that the conduct of U.S. soldiers stationed in the prefecture has not improved since the September 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen.

Speaking at the gathering, Suzuyo Takazato, a Naha city assemblywoman who leads the group, said, “The best and only way to solve such a problem is to make the islands free of military bases.”

The 1995 incident unleashed a wave of anger in Okinawa Prefecture and led to calls for the massive U.S. military presence in the prefecture to be reduced. Currently, Okinawa accounts for 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land area but some 75 percent of land occupied by U.S. military facilities in the entire country.

Many participants at Saturday’s gathering complained there had been no improvement in the soldiers’ behavior. “Five years ago, the U.S. forces in Okinawa pledged such incidents would never happen again,” one of the participants said.

At the end of the gathering, the protesters blocked off the entrance to the headquarters and shouted, “Get rid of the bases and get rid of the violence!”

The U.S. forces in Japan and the Japanese government are struggling to quell widespread discontent among the people of Okinawa over the U.S. military ahead of the G8 summit, which will be attended by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

On Monday, police arrested a 19-year-old U.S. Marine based at the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan on suspicion of breaking into a home in the city of Okinawa and molesting a junior high school girl while she was sleeping.

The Marine, who was drunk at the time, has reportedly told police he meant to visit a friend’s house and entered the residence by mistake. He has denied molesting the girl.