Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Opposition blasts Abe for staying

SENSIBLE The Democratic Party of Japan says it will decide whether to retain a law passed after Sept. 11, 2001, which allows Japan to assist the US in Afghanistan

AFP , TOKYO

Japan's resurgent opposition yesterday blasted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for staying in office despite an election mauling and vowed to fight to stop him extending support to the US military in Afghanistan.

Abe, an outspoken conservative who supports a larger military role for officially pacifist Japan, suffered a major setback on Sunday as voters ousted his party from the upper house of parliament.

But Abe has vowed to stay in office, insisting that voters supported his broader agenda despite their anger over scandals and the creaky pension system.

Abe "is trying to get away with such senseless conduct, trying to keep his Cabinet in charge even after his party lost the majority," said Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

"I don't think he will gain people's support and understanding by doing something so selfish," Ozawa said at a party meeting.

It was his first appearance since his party's historic win on Sunday over Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled Japan for most of the past half-century. Ozawa, who has a history of health problems, had taken a rest due to fatigue after the election campaign.

The LDP maintains a large majority in the more powerful lower house, meaning it can stay in power and override votes by the opposition-led upper house.

But the opposition made clear it would work against any extension of laws allowing Japanese ships to provide fuel and other logistical support to US-led forces in Afghanistan.

"We have opposed the bills in the past. There is no way we will turn around and support them now," Ozawa said. "If opposition parties cooperate, we could pass a bill that states our position."

Japan has been constitutionally prohibited from using its armed forces since defeat in World War II. Abe, Japan's first prime minister born after the war, has made rewriting the Constitution a priority.

Japan passed laws after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that allowed participation in the US-led "war on terrorism," paving the way for the Indian Ocean mission.

Japanese Defense Minister Yuriko Koike has called for Japan to extend the law when it expires on Nov. 1, although the government said no decision has been taken.

"We will decide which direction Japan will take by using our own judgement after taking various factors into account," chief government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters.

The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun said the legislation on the Indian Ocean mission would be a key test on whether the opposition party was "sensible and responsible."

"If confusion arises from legislative procedures taken to extend the law, it could send the international community a garbled message about Japan's attitude toward the anti-terrorism campaign," the Yomiuri said in an editorial.

The Indian Ocean mission was groundbreaking at the time. Japan later took the historic step of deploying its military to Iraq.

Japan withdrew the troops from Iraq last year but continues to fly goods and personnel into the country on behalf of the US-led coalition and UN.

The Japanese parliament extended the Iraq mission, which the opposition also opposes, just ahead of the election.

Also see story:
Japanese politics taking an unprecedented turn

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