TOKYO (AP) _ Accusing U.S. authorities of dragging their feet before handing over an American serviceman suspected of raping a Japanese woman, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's opponents called Sunday for changes in the agreement governing American troops in Japan.
But Koizumi said his government is determined to find ways to make the existing Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States work better.
The agreement was the topic of a national television debate two days after U.S. authorities agreed to release Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland into the custody of Japanese police on Okinawa.
Woodland was arrested Friday on suspicion of raping a 20-year-old woman on April 29 outside a bar on Okinawa, a southern island where thousands of U.S. troops are stationed.
Police repeatedly questioned Woodland after the alleged attack. However, the airman's arrest was delayed for four days by U.S. authorities who hesitated to turn him over because of concerns about his legal defense under Japan's criminal justice system, which convicts more than 95 percent of suspects whose cases go to trial.
Since his arrest, Woodland has reportedly been interrogated according to standard Japanese procedure, under which no lawyer is present and the interpreter is chosen by police.
Japanese newspapers have quoted unidentified Japanese officials as saying they rejected American demands that a U.S.-appointed interpreter and defense lawyer be with Woodland during questioning.
On Saturday, an Okinawan court gave prosecutors 10 days to file charges against him _ the usual amount of time. The agreement covering the 47,000 American troops in Japan requires U.S. authorities to transfer custody of military personnel suspected of crimes to Japanese police only after they are formally charged.
After the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen on Okinawa, Washington agreed to ``give sympathetic consideration'' to handing over suspects before indictment. Woodland is the second American serviceman to be turned over to Japanese police before being charged.
But leaders of Japan's opposition parties complained Sunday that the terms of the agreement were still too one-sided.
``The suspect did get handed over, but it took way too long,'' said Yukio Hatoyama, who heads the Democratic Party. ``We should send a stronger message to defend our sovereignty.''
More than half of the U.S. troops stationed in Japan are on Okinawa, a small island 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo. Crimes involving U.S. military personnel are a constant source of friction with residents, and some Japanese took Washington's reluctance to hand over Woodland as an insult to the country's legal system.
``How many times do we have to see the same crimes being repeated? Each time tougher discipline is called for, and nothing happens,'' said Takako Doi, leader of the Japan Socialist Party.
Koizumi has resisted calls to revise the Status of Forces Agreement. He said Sunday that Japan's immediate goal should be to hold discussions with the United States about ways to satisfy Japanese concerns within the existing framework.
``We'll try to meet our demands through improved implementation of the agreement,'' he said. The popular prime minister added, however, that revision could be a future option as part of a wider talks involving U.S. bases elsewhere, including South Korea and Germany.
Some Japanese are in no mood to wait.
``Especially on Okinawa, there is a tendency to consider `improvements in implementation' to be synonymous with deception,'' said the national Yomiuri newspaper.