Fri, Sep 16, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Japanese to mull giving its military expanded freedom

MANDATE With its confidence high after its recent electoral triumph, Koizumi's government will consider amending its 1947 Constitution

AP , TOKYO

Empowered by a landslide election victory, Japan's ruling coalition will form a special committee next week to discuss constitutional changes that would give the military more freedom to act overseas, an official said yesterday.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner, the New Komei Party, reached a basic agreement with the top opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, to form the parliamentary committee, lower house spokesman Masakazu Tobashi said.

The committee will discuss legal procedures needed to amend the Constitution, which has never been done since the charter was enacted in 1947.

"Debate on whether to go ahead with amendments would come later," Tobashi said.

The LDP backs changing Article 9 of the Constitution -- known as the pacifist clause -- to more clearly define the military's right to aid allies and take part in peacekeeping missions overseas.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a strong supporter of US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, has already dispatched non-combat troops to both areas under special laws which may be extended for a second time later this year.

Koizumi's stance has sparked fears in neighboring countries about a resurgence of Japanese militarism, which still haunts much of Asia 60 years after the end of World War II. Critics at home say the dispatches violate the Constitution.

The prime minister appeared to back away from the issue after securing a landslide victory in lower house elections last Sunday, saying he didn't have enough time left in office to achieve it.

He is scheduled to step down next September.

Article 9 of Japan's Constitution, drafted by US occupation forces after World War II, prohibits the use of force in settling international disputes.

The Japanese government has interpreted that to mean the country can possess armed forces for self-defense, and maintains a 240,000-strong Self Defense Force.

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