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Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007

Fukuda, Aso back new antiterror law; Abe hit over timing


Staff writer

The government will submit new antiterrorism legislation to the extraordinary Diet session in an attempt to extend Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, both contenders to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday.

Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso made the pledges during their final public debate at the Japan National Press Club. The Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election is Sunday.

The government is trying desperately to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling activities in the Indian Ocean for the coalition forces in Afghanistan. Japan's special law permitting the MSDF mission expires Nov. 1.

"If it is difficult to extend the current law, we would have to submit new legislation . . . during this Diet session," said Fukuda, a former chief Cabinet secretary and the front-runner in the LDP race.

If the government waits until the regular Diet session is convened in January, the Japanese mission would have to be suspended for several months and such an extended absence would be criticized by other countries taking part in the antiterrorism operations, he added.

"Japan has to show its stance clearly," Fukuda said.

Trailing Fukuda in the race, Aso, the LDP secretary general, concurred. "It is our duty to resume the operation as soon as possible," Aso said. "We have to try to have (the new law) enacted during this session."

But the outlook for the new legislation is unclear. Opposition parties, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, are ready to use their newly gained control of the House of Councilors to block the extension of the MSDF mission on the grounds that it is not authorized by a United Nations resolution and is thus unconstitutional.

Two days before Sunday's LDP race, Fukuda was still ahead of Aso after garnering support from most of the party's factions. The winner of the election is almost assured of being elected prime minister by the Diet on Tuesday.

During the debate, Fukuda denied media reports that he is considering consulting with the DPJ over when to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election in order to win the cooperation of the leading opposition force in Diet proceedings.

Fukuda also criticized Abe for abruptly announcing his resignation last week — just two days after opening the 62-day extra Diet session with a policy speech in which he staked his job on the mission.

"Abe made a wrong decision on the timing of his resignation," Fukuda said.

Abe announced his intention to step down more than a month after his LDP suffered a crushing defeat in the July 29 House of Councilors election and about two weeks after he reshuffled his Cabinet to revamp his scandal-tainted administration.

Fukuda said Abe should have quit right after the July election or stayed until the very end.



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