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Japan split over anti-terror bill

Japanese Prime Minister
The prime minister wants quick approval of the anti-terrorism legislation  

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has failed to win opposition backing for a bill that would allow Tokyo to offer support to the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign.

But despite the setback, the Japanese leader appears ready to push the anti-terror bill through parliament quickly anyway.

The new legislation would allow Japan to send its troops to give logistical support to America and its allies in overseas military operations for the first time since World War II.

The new legislation has sparked debate across East Asia -- where memories of wartime militarism and defeat run deep -- over how far Japan can go without breaching its pacifist constitution.

Under its present constitution, Japan cannot engage in any type of military action unless it is directly threatened.

At a glance: Japan

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Although Koizumi's ruling coalition has the majority to push the bill through parliament, support from the opposition would have been seen as a vote of cross-party solidarity.

On Tuesday, a key Lower House parliamentary panel passed the bill despite objections by the main opposition Democratic Party.

The clearance by the panel sets the stage for approval by the full lower house as early as Thursday.

Prior consent

Any moves by Japan to enhance the role of its military is normally met with suspicion and hostility by countries that suffered under Japanese military occupation during World War II, especially China and South Korea.

Koizumi and Bush
Koizumi is keen to show Bush that Japan ia a reliable ally  

But while Asian neighbors may be wary, two surveys released on Tuesday show a majority of Japanese voters back the new law, which Koizumi is keen to pass to show that Japan is keen to actively contribute to U.S.-led efforts against terrorism.

Koizumi had promised speedy passage of the bill during a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in the United States last month.

But Koizumi's moves to push it through quickly with opposition support stalled when talks with Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama broke down.

Koizumi rejected Hotoyama's demand that the government get parliamentary approval before sending Japanese troops to assist with logistical, humanitarian and other non-combat support.

"We thought we could reach an agreement, but (Hatoyama) demanded prior consent. Thus we couldn't reach agreement," Koizumi told Reuters news agency.

Hatoyama's party also objected to transporting arms and weapons, which the bill allows, although it bans the supplying of them.

"This is a unilateral vote without sufficient debate and discussions, and we can never approve of this," Hatoyama said in a statement, Reuters reported.

Despite the lack of support, Koizumi is keen to get the legislation through parliament's lower house before he leaves for this week's Asia-Pacific leaders summit in Shanghai, and wants to enact the bill by the end of this month.

Nervous neighbors

Under the draft legislation, effective for two years and extendable for up to two more years, Japan could dispatch troops to supply medical services and supplies, as well as humanitarian aid for refugees.

Analysts warn, however, that any move by Japan to boost its military role could stir controversy in Asia because of the country's past imperialism.

In recent days Koizumi has traveled to South Korea and to China to assure Asian neighbors that the new legislation would not pave the way for Japanese military resurgence.

Japanese leaders are also keen to avoid a rerun of Japan's 1991 diplomatic embarrassment when it came under fire from much of the world community for declining to commit even a token force to the Gulf War.

Instead, Tokyo extended $13 billion in aid for the U.S.-led multinational forces trying to oust Iraq from Kuwait.


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