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Friday, Jan. 11, 2008

MSDF bill step closer to ruling bloc's ultimate OK

Staff writer

An opposition-controlled Upper House panel Thursday rejected a special antiterrorism bill to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to resume its refueling operations in the Indian Ocean, in a last-minute bid to block its expected passage Friday in the ruling bloc-dominated Lower House.

Although the bill is set to be rejected again Friday during the Upper House plenary session, the legislation will be passed later in the day by the Lower House by an overriding two-thirds vote by members of the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition.

Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates that even if the upper chamber rejects a bill, it can still be passed by a two-thirds lower chamber overriding vote.

Passing the bill to resume the MSDF refueling mission is a key goal for Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in the current extraordinary Diet session.

Before the Upper House panel on foreign affairs and defense, Fukuda stressed that the refueling activities are a promise Japan made to the international community.

"Japan has been cooperating with the international society, making its best efforts under the limited conditions," Fukuda told the panel. "I think that the international society is closely watching (Japan) having difficulty" in resuming the cooperation.

Naoto Kan, deputy chief of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, emphasized the significance of the committee's rejection of the bill, although it is still on course for passage.

"The fact that (the bill) was rejected by one of the chambers representing the public has much meaning," Kan told a news conference.

Kan also criticized the ruling camp for its plan to immediately override the Upper House decision without any discussion. "By overriding that decision made logically (by the Upper House, the ruling bloc) is ignoring the opinion of at least one of the chambers," he said.

The legislation was submitted to the Diet last October to replace the previous antiterrorism law that expired Nov. 1, aiming to resume refueling the multinational naval ships engaged in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation. The MSDF halted its mission when the law expired.

The antiterrorism bill will be valid for one year but leaves room for an extension. It limits the MSDF's activities to refueling and providing water to the multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean.

The bill also limits the MSDF geographically to that ocean, the skies over it and coastal countries determined as noncombat zones. The prime minister also needs to get Cabinet approval of an "implementation plan" that lays out the basic policies and report any changes in the mission plan to the Diet.

Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the DPJ, repeatedly criticized the bill, saying the U.S.-led OEF-MIO is not officially authorized by the United Nations and is thus unconstitutional.

"The fueling activity itself is not a use of force, is not an engagement in collective defense and is not integrated with military power — and therefore, there is no way it could be unconstitutional," Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said.

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The Japan Times

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