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Friday, Nov. 23, 2007

Opposition digs in to frustrate Fukuda's MSDF bill attempts


By SETSUKO KAMIYA and MASAMI ITO
Staff writers

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa Thursday rejected Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's request to approve a special antiterrorism bill to let the Maritime Self-Defense Force resume providing fuel and water to multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean.

Ozawa also declined Fukuda's request to enter policy consultations over two pressing issues — social security centering on the pension system and the possibility of enacting a permanent law to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces abroad.

The DPJ president told the prime minister that the largest opposition party would only discuss matters openly in Diet sessions.

With the end of the extraordinary Diet session approaching on Dec. 15, Fukuda sought to build a consensus with the opposition parties to break free from the Diet's stalemate, in which the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc holds a majority in the Lower House while the opposition parties control the Upper House.

Desperate to get the MSDF back to the Indian Ocean, the ruling bloc may try to extend the Diet session for a second time.

"I told the prime minister what I have repeatedly told him. We will not change our basic position that we are against sending the SDF overseas without any principle, because that will not only mislead the country but is also against the Constitution," Ozawa said after meeting Fukuda.

"Even though the prime minister requested (our cooperation), I told him we cannot make compromises."

Ozawa said he also told Fukuda that deliberations on the antiterrorism bill can only come after the scandal involving the Defense Ministry is entirely resolved.

Fukuda, however, said he would not give up trying to persuade Ozawa to give in.

"It would have been an unheard-of situation," in which the opposition camp would have agreed to everything the ruling bloc says in just one round of talks, Fukuda told reporters Thursday evening. "I think it would be fine to talk about various issues regardless of it being in the Diet or in (meetings) like this."

Fukuda also admitted that he didn't ask other opposition parties to hold policy consultations.

"There was no special reason, but I don't think it is strange to ask the DPJ, the main opposition party — it is quite natural," Fukuda said.

Returning from Singapore Thursday morning, Fukuda spent the entire afternoon meeting leaders of both the ruling and opposition camps.

The talks with the opposition were initiated by Fukuda himself and LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki to discuss the prime minister's meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush Nov. 16 and with Asian leaders earlier this week.

But the discussion focused on how to manage the divided Diet, in which the number of bills yet to be deliberated is growing.

Although the extraordinary Diet session opened Sept. 10, only four bills have been approved so far. Without the passage of the special antiterrorism bill — Fukuda's key goal in the current Diet session — the ruling bloc was forced to extend the session to Dec. 15.

But time is running out and the ruling bloc could either choose to extend the session again, or to let the bill die out.

By law, an extraordinary Diet session can only be extended twice. Even if the antiterrorism bill is rejected in the Upper House, it can technically be passed with a two-thirds vote in the Lower House, which the ruling bloc currently holds. But some coalition lawmakers are reluctant to use such a forceful measure, and New Komeito chief Akihiro Ota said the topic did not come up in Thursday's meeting.



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