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U.S. airman arrested for alleged drunken driving on Okinawa

TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese police arrested an American serviceman for alleged drunken driving on Okinawa early Monday morning, days after the lifting of an off-base drinking ban imposed after other alcohol offenses and the arrest of a former Marine in a high-profile murder case.

Tech Sgt. Christopher Platte, 27, stationed at Kadena Air Base on the southern island, was arrested after a police officer spotted him driving erratically on the road in the town of Chatan on Okinawa's central region. Police said a breath test showed his blood-alcohol level exceeding the legal limit. Platte reportedly denied the allegation.

Japan's government protested to the U.S. Embassy over the arrest. The U.S. military had lifted the drinking ban on June 28.

"It's extremely regrettable," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda told a news conference. "We want the disciplinary steps carried out thoroughly."

Hagiuda also said the two nations are at final stages of talks aimed at reviewing the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces of Agreement that gives immunity to American servicemen and civilian base contractors in some criminal cases from Japanese prosecution.

The two governments are expected to announce a plan Tuesday to narrow down the scope of "civilian component" by improving the way the agreement is used. It's a symbolic move that does not involve a fully fledged revision to the agreement and is seen as the ruling party's appeal to Okinawan voters ahead of the July 10 upper house election.

The U.S. military today usually hands its servicemen to the Japanese side in serious crimes, but it's not compulsory under the agreement, which the Okinawan authorities for years have protested as unfair.

In May, a military contractor and former Marine, Kenneth Shinzato, was charged with the murder and rape of a 20-year-old woman whose body was abandoned in the forest. A number of drunken driving cases have occurred in the weeks since, even during the drinking ban, aggravating Okinawans who have long complained about the heavy U.S. military presence on the southern island and crime linked to the Americans living there.

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 Japanese public. Okinawa police statistics show the U.S. military's crime rate has been lower than the public's over the past several years, though the rates in individual years vary.

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