Jun 23, 7:51 AM EDT

No July 4 fireworks at US bases in Japan after Okinawa rape


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TOKYO (AP) -- There will be no Fourth of July fireworks for American troops in Japan this year because of restrictions imposed after a former U.S. Marine was accused of raping and murdering a woman on Okinawa.

U.S. Forces Japan said Thursday that "no U.S. installations in Japan will celebrate the Fourth of July holiday with fireworks displays or concerts" to demonstrate respect for Okinawan residents.

The killing of the woman, whose body was found in May, triggered outrage on the southern Japanese island, where tensions frequently rise over crime linked to U.S. military bases there.

The suspect, a U.S. military contractor and former Marine, is charged with abandoning the woman's body, and murder and rape charges are pending.

Maj. John Severns, deputy director of public affairs at U.S. Forces Japan, said in an email that barbecues, sporting events and other community activities are still being planned at bases in the country to share the traditions for celebrating American independence with Japanese neighbors.

The murder case has rekindled anger in Okinawa over the burden of the heavy U.S. troop presence there.

After the suspect's arrest, the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy imposed restrictions on their personnel, including prohibitions on alcohol consumption and off-base activities, though some limits by the Navy have since been eased.

Okinawa was already in the spotlight because of a contentious plan to relocate a Marine Corps air station to a less-populated part of the island. The plan developed after the 1995 rape of a girl by three American servicemen enraged Okinawans. Critics want the air station completely removed from the island.

"Crime and accidents have been repeated for years because of U.S. military bases occupying vast areas (of the island)," Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said at an annual ceremony Thursday marking the end of the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles Japan fought against the U.S. in World War II. More than half of the 200,000 Japanese who died in the battle were Okinawans, compared to some 12,000 Americans killed.

"The prefecture residents are shocked and are feeling unsafe and enraged because of the latest crime that was so inhuman and heinous," Onaga said, renewing demands that the Japanese and U.S. governments quickly reduce the number of American troops on the island.

Half of about 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan under a bilateral security agreement are based on Okinawa.

The U.S. military says the crime rate among its ranks in Japan is lower than among the general public.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, which wants Japan to play a bigger military role internationally, backs the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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