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

Image: Protesters hold signs outside Kadena Air Base on May 20.
Protesters hold signs outside Kadena Air Base on May 20.HITOSHI MAESHIRO / EPA

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By The Associated Press

TOKYO — An American sailor was arrested Sunday on suspicion of drunken driving after an accident on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, where public anger has run high over crimes by U.S. military personnel.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia, 21, assigned to Kadena base in Okinawa, was arrested after driving the wrong way on a freeway and smashing head-on into two vehicles late Saturday, said police spokesman Takashi Shirado. She was not injured but two people in the other cars were injured, one in the arm and the other in the chest, he said.

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida spoke with U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy about the arrest, with Kishida asking the U.S. do more to prevent a recurrence, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Kennedy offered her regrets to the family of those injured, the ministry said. The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Okinawa is home to more than half of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan. Protests are common on the island, where residents feel they are being forced with an unfair burden of housing the U.S. troops under a bilateral security agreement.

Protesters hold signs outside Kadena Air Base on May 20.HITOSHI MAESHIRO / EPA

American military personnel are under a midnight curfew and off-base drinking is banned through later this month in Okinawa after a former U.S. Marine who worked on an American military base was arrested after he led police to a woman's body. He is being held on suspicion of abandoning the body, while police investigate.

The suspected murder of the woman was such a critical issue it came up during President Barack Obama's recent visit to Japan. Obama offered his condolences and promised that the U.S. would fully cooperate to have the man prosecuted under Japanese law.