TOKYO A U.S. Marine arrested earlier this month on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old girl was released by Japanese authorities on Friday, a spokesman for the U.S. military on the southern island of Okinawa said.
In the latest twist in an incident that had caused outrage in Japan, 38-year-old Tyrone Hadnott was freed after prosecutors decided not to press charges as the girl had dropped the accusation against him, Kyodo news agency reported.
The arrest had revived bitter memories of the rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl on the island in 1995, which sparked huge protests against U.S. bases there and raised doubts about the bilateral security alliance.
"He is in Marine Corps custody. They released him to us," Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Powell told Reuters.
The Marines were still investigating the case, Powell said, adding that it was "premature to speculate on any further legal action on our part".
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters he did not know the details of the prosecutors' decision but said: "Japan and the United States need to cooperate with each other so that incidents like this will never happen again," Kyodo reported.
Hadnott had been arrested on suspicion of raping the girl in a car on Okinawa island, where the bulk of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based under a treaty signed after World War Two. Police have said he denied raping the girl but admitted forcing her to kiss him.
"We've determined it isn't appropriate to indict the suspect by applying charges ... out of consideration for the victim's feelings," Kyodo quoted Yaichiro Yamashiki, chief prosecutor at the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office in Okinawa, as saying.
"The girl herself wants to be left in peace," he added.
A journalist in Okinawa said there had been criticism of the girl on the Internet and that it was possible that her family decided to spare her the ordeal of any trial.
Fukuda had called the latest incident "unforgivable" and demanded tighter military discipline, but both the U.S. and Japanese governments also moved swiftly to try to limit the diplomatic fallout. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Japan earlier this week, voiced deep regret over the case, while Japanese Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba said it was important for the two governments to take action to improve the situation in a visible way.
Hadnott's arrest, which was followed by reports of other crimes blamed on Marines, coincided with efforts by the Japanese government to persuade local residents to agree to a plan to move the Marine's Futenma air base from the crowded central city of Ginowan to the coastal city of Nago.
The transfer, first proposed after the 1995 rape, is central to a broader plan to shift 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam to lighten the burden of the U.S. military presence on the island.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; editing by Sami Aboudi)