Philippine prosecutors give six U.S. Marines more time to respond to complaint

Philippine prosecutors on Wednesday gave six U.S. Marines accused of raping a Filipino woman more time to respond to the complaint. Lawyers for the Marines who did not attend the hearing said they were prepared to submit their statements, but the woman's attorneys presented an additional statement from a witness, prompting them to request extra time. The witness claimed the Marines dropped off the woman from a van after she was raped, according to her attorneys. The prosecutors gave the Marines until next Tuesday to submit their sworn statements.

The alleged assault on the 22-year-old woman at the former U.S. naval base in Subic has stirred emotions in the former American colony, and the government last week formally requested custody of the Marines.

They have been in the hands of the U.S. Embassy since the alleged rape on Nov. 1, and the U.S. government hasn't said if they will be transferred to Philippine custody.

Outside the prosecutors' office in Olongapo city, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Manila, about 100 members of the women's group Gabriela and other left-wing organizations carried placards and streamers calling for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows U.S. troops to train in the Philippines.

Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni said the servicemen were not compelled to attend the hearings, although their presence would be necessary to affirm their counter affidavits. Their lawyers refused to disclose details of their statements.

One of them, Jose Justiniano, said his American client was "somewhere in Olongapo" on Wednesday waiting to be called for a confrontation with the woman and the driver of the van who claimed the Marine was among the six involved in the alleged rape inside the moving vehicle. Justiniano said two of the Marines named in the complaint have witnesses who can corroborate they were in another location when the incident occurred, but he declined to specify, reports the AP. I.L.

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