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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

Lower House passes MSDF antiterror bill


Staff writer

The Lower House approved a special antiterrorism bill Tuesday to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue refueling multinational warships engaged in counterterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean — a key goal of Prime Minister Taro Aso for this Diet session.

The bill was passed by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc and immediately sent to the Upper House for deliberations.

The opposition-controlled Upper House, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, is set to swiftly reject the bill, with the ruling coalition then expected to hold an overriding vote in the Lower House via its two-thirds majority and pass the bill by month's end.

The legislation cleared the lower chamber with unusual speed, as the DPJ cooperated in deliberations. Last year, the same bill took nearly three months to clear the Diet because the DPJ refused to put it to an Upper House vote, forcing then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to extend the session twice — the maximum limit.

Although the DPJ still opposes the bill, it hopes that by letting the ruling bloc pass it, this will pressure Aso into dissolving the Lower House and calling an election.

Although there has been speculation that an election could be held in late November, Aso has said he wants to concentrate on the international financial crisis as he faces low public support for his Cabinet.

Aso "is being extremely vague about the dissolution, so we will keep careful watch and take measures corresponding to the situation," DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka said during a party meeting in the afternoon.

The government-submitted special antiterrorism bill would extend the MSDF refueling activities for a year from Jan. 15. During the day's plenary session, LDP lawmaker Ben Kimura said the MSDF mission, being within the framework of the Constitution, has been highly appraised by the international community and it is important for Japan to continue the assistance.

"The war against terrorism is still halfway, and many countries are patiently trying to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed for terrorism," Kimura said. "As a responsible member of the international society, Japan must not stop the refueling activities."

But the DPJ has argued that the refueling activities supporting the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom — Maritime Interdiction Operation are unconstitutional because they are not officially authorized by the United Nations.

"Afghanistan is said to be the main battlefield for terrorism," DPJ lawmaker Yutaka Banno said. "But that was not the case before the (Sept. 11, 2001) terrorist attacks in the United States. Isn't (the Afghanistan situation) the second tragedy following 9/11?"

During the same plenary session, the Lower House rejected a DPJ-sponsored bill to allow Self-Defense Forces troops to be dispatched to Afghanistan for support activities.

The DPJ bill limited the dispatch of SDF troops and civilians to such missions as disarmament, medical assistance, and transportation and distribution of goods.



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