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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007

Upper House takes up, but is expected to reject, MSDF bill


Staff writer

Nearly two weeks after clearing the Lower House, the opposition-controlled Upper House finally began deliberations Wednesday on a contentious bill that would allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force to resume the supply of fuel and water to multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean.

With the Dec. 15 end of the extended Diet session nearing, however, the Upper House will either reject the antiterrorism bill or just allow it to die.

Underscoring the division in the Diet, the upper chamber om Wednesday approved a symbolic bill to cancel the Air Self-Defense Force's airlift support for the reconstruction of Iraq in a majority vote backed by the opposition parties.

The bill, submitted last month by the leading opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is expected to be rejected in the Lower House, where the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc holds a large majority.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, speaking in the House of Councilors, stressed the importance of passing the special antiterrorism bill and working to bring the opposition on board.

"Terrorism cannot be justified regardless of any reason and should be (denounced)," Fukuda said. "Terrorism challenges an open and free society, which our nation's peace and prosperity is based on, and the international society must unite and take measures against it."

If the antiterrorism bill allowing the MSDF to resume its mission fails to be passed on its first attempt, the ruling bloc could still technically force approval with a two-thirds vote in the Lower House.

But because the DPJ has hinted it might respond with a censure motion against Fukuda, some in the ruling bloc are reluctant to ram the bill through the Diet, because it could cause further political chaos and lead Fukuda to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

By law, the ruling bloc can vote to extend the Diet only one more time to deliberate on the bill, but a senior government official said it was too early to tell whether another extension will be necessary.

The antiterrorism bill was submitted in October to replace the special antiterrorism law, which expired Nov. 1 and ended the MSDF's contentious refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

The mission was the focus of Tokyo's support for Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation, which is led by Japan's main ally, the United States.

Attempts by Fukuda and his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, to keep the mission alive have been stymied ever since the opposition won control of the Upper House in July.

DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa opposes backing the OEF-MIO because it is not officially authorized by the United Nations and is therefore unconstitutional, although the U.N. passed a resolution welcoming the mission.

"The United States' OEF-MIO activities are aimed at eliminating the threat triggered by the 9/11 terrorism attacks, and (the U.S.) began (the OEF-MIO activities) legally by (engaging in) self-defense," Fukuda said.

The special antiterrorism law, which authorizes the MSDF's participation in the operation, was enacted soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had been extended three times.

The special law on Iraqi reconstruction cleared the Diet in July 2003 and authorized the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force troops for noncombat support in southern Iraq and the ASDF airlift operations based in Kuwait.

The GSDF pulled out of Iraq in July 2006, but the ASDF is still conducting transport operations between Kuwait and Iraq for multinational forces and the U.N.

The GSDF pulled out of Iraq in July 2006, but the ASDF is still conducting transport operations between Kuwait and Iraq for multinational forces and the U.N.



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