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Navy Bans Alcohol for All 18,600 U.S. Sailors in Japan After DUI Crash

The U.S. Navy slapped a drinking ban on sailors stationed in Japan on Monday and halted off-base liberty after police arrested a U.S. sailor on the southern island of Okinawa on suspicion of drunk driving following a car crash that injured two people.

Image: Protesters hold signs outside Kadena Air Base on May 20.
Anti-U.S. military protesters hold signs outside Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, on May 20. Hitoshi Maeshiro / EPA file

"For decades we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship and the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole," Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, commander of U.S. naval forces in Japan, said in a statement Monday.

The United States has 18,600 sailors stationed in Japan.

The ban follows the arrest late Saturday of Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia, 21, who is assigned to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. Mejia drove the wrong way on a freeway and crashed into two vehicles late Saturday, a police spokesman said.

The latest incident came as the U.S. military observes a 30-day mourning period at bases on Okinawa after a U.S. civilian working for the U.S. military there was arrested on suspicion of dumping the body of a 20-year-old Japanese woman.

Related: U.S. Sailor Arrested on Okinawa Amid Simmering Public Anger

Renewed anger among residents in Okinawa at the U.S. military presence threatens a plan to move the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base to a less populous part of Okinawa, which was agreed to in 1995 after the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by U.S. military personnel sparked huge anti-base demonstrations.

Japanese PM Scolds President Obama Over 'Despicable' Okinawa Murder 1:20

Okinawa's governor and many residents want the Marines off the island.

All sailors in Japan will be kept on base and banned from drinking until "all personnel understand the impact of responsible behavior on the U.S.-Japan alliance," the statement said. Sailors living off base will be allowed to travel to and from base only to conduct "essential activities."

The restrictions don't apply to family members and civilian U.S. contractors, which would have brought the total number of people to 35,000, but they are being encouraged to observe the rules "in a spirit of solidarity," a spokesman for the Navy said.