Reuters International

TOKYO (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy lifted a temporary drinking ban on its 18,600 sailors in Japan on Friday after a senior officer said personnel had shown they understand how alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour can damage relations with the Japanese community.

The drinking ban was imposed 11 days ago after Japanese police arrested a U.S. sailor on the southern island of Okinawa for drink-driving following a car crash that injured two people.

That incident came as U.S. forces were already trying to repair relations in Japan after an American civilian working for the military was arrested on suspicion of murdering of a 20-year-old Japanese woman and dumping her body.

"The temporary restriction on alcohol was not intended to be a punishment, nor was it ever intended to be permanent," Rear Admiral Matthew Carter, commander of the U.S. Navy in Japan, said in a statement.

"We took this pause to train and reflect on the dangers of alcohol abuse," he said.

Sailors will be allowed to drink alcohol on U.S. bases there and in private residences outside, but not in off-base bars.

Anger among Okinawa residents at the U.S. military presence threatens to derail the relocation the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base to a less populous part of the island, a plan agreed in 1995 after the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by U.S. military personnel sparked huge demonstrations.

Okinawa's governor and many residents want the Marines off the island. A demonstration against the U.S. presence planned for Sunday in the capital Naha could attract thousands of people.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Paul Tait)

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