Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Japan House Approves Afghan Mission

Japan’s lower house of parliament Tuesday approved the resumption of the country’s naval mission supporting the US-led “war on terror,” setting up a battle in the opposition-controlled upper house. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda pushed through the legislation days before he holds his first summit with US President George W Bush and amid speculation he will call a snap election if the opposition blocks the deployment. The lower house, where Fukuda’s coalition holds an overwhelming majority, voted 327-128 in favour of a bill to restart the mission, which provided fuel and other logistical aid on the Indian Ocean to vessels and war jets supporting US-led forces in Afghanistan. The naval mission, under way since 2001, ended on November 1 due to a deadlock in talks between the government and the opposition on extending the legislation. Fukuda leaves Thursday for Washington on his first trip abroad as premier as the latest poll showed for the first time that a majority of voters supported the naval deployment.The opposition won control of the upper house of parliament in July elections and has vowed that Japan should not take part in “American wars.” “There has never been a clear and unequivocal constitutional interpretation” to justify the mission, Ichiro Ozawa, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), told reporters. “History has shown the danger of sending troops overseas based on rhetoric,” Ozawa said. But the DPJ has been in disarray since its leader Ichiro Ozawa angered his colleagues this month by considering Fukuda’s offer of a grand coalition. Ozawa said he would step down but retracted his offer two days later. Fukuda’s predecessor Shinzo Abe, an outspoken advocate for a more robust foreign policy, resigned in September in part due to the opposition’s refusal to extend the naval mission. Abe returned to parliament Tuesday after prolonged treatment for stress-related illness and said he voted for the bill.