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Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007

DPJ nixes Fukuda's coalition offer to Ozawa

But opposition chief open to the MSDF bill

Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda made a pitch Friday to Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa to forge a grand coalition in a bid to break the stalemate in the divided Diet, but the DPJ rejected the offer.

News photo
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (right) shares a laugh with Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa prior to their talks Friday at the Diet. AP PHOTO

Ozawa, however, showed flexibility toward the new Maritime Self-Defense Force logistic support bill, which has been a key bone of contention.

Fukuda made the coalition proposal during a closed meeting with Ozawa — the second such talks this week.

"Looking at the current political situation, we must find a way out," Fukuda told reporters Friday evening after meeting Ozawa. "We must create a new (political) structure to realize our policies."

While Ozawa did not give an immediate answer to Fukuda's proposal during the talks, top DPJ executives who later discussed the offer said it couldn't be accepted.

Ozawa himself then phoned Fukuda to say the DPJ is turning down the proposal.

"A majority of DPJ executives said no to even entering policy talks with (the ruling coalition), so I have told (Fukuda) that we cannot accept the new coalition proposal," Ozawa told reporters after the DPJ meeting.

Fukuda, whose Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc lost its majority in the House of Councilors in an election loss in July, has struggled to pass new legislation to enable Japan to continue the MSDF's Indian Ocean refueling support mission for U.S.-led operations in and around Afghanistan.

Ozawa has repeatedly expressed his intention to oppose the bill on grounds that the mission is not officially authorized by the United Nations, and is therefore unconstitutional.

During the Friday talks, Fukuda and Ozawa also discussed the possibility of creating a permanent law to create a legal framework for the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces personnel abroad. Currently, the government enacts a special law each time SDF units are dispatched overseas for missions other than U.N.-led peacekeeping operations.

According to Fukuda, Ozawa said he would be willing to cooperate with the ruling bloc for Diet approval of the new antiterrorism legislation if the coalition considered the DPJ's demands to create a permanent law.

"I don't think that Ozawa thinks the current (MSDF) activities are completely pointless," Fukuda said.

The 2001 special antiterrorism law that extended the refueling deployment expired at midnight Thursday, forcing the government to end the MSDF mission, after it had been provided fuel to coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean for the past six years.

Fukuda, who became prime minister in September after his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, resigned at the beginning of the ongoing Diet session, has yet to see any of the government-proposed bills approved by the divided Diet — even though the LDP-led coalition holds a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives.

Friday's meeting was the second this week in which Fukuda sought Ozawa's cooperation to end the Diet impasse.

In their previous meeting Tuesday, Ozawa rejected Fukuda's plea for help in winning Diet approval of the new antiterrorism legislation so that Japan could resume the refueling mission as soon as possible.

"(I) have been thinking of (creating a new structure) since the (LDP) lost in the Upper House election," Fukuda said.

Fukuda also said the LDP's relations with New Komeito would not change if the DPJ were to take part in the bloc.

If the DPJ had agreed to a grand coalition, the ruling bloc would have comprised the three biggest forces in the Diet — the LDP, the DPJ and New Komeito — and would have left little room in the legislature for the other smaller opposition parties.

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The Japan Times

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