Fri, Aug 31, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Japanese opposition leader rejects Merkel's appeal

AFP , TOKYO

Japan's most prominent opposition leader yesterday rebuffed an appeal by visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to maintain its support for the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, which has been unpopular here.

The opposition seized one house of parliament in elections last month following a raft of domestic scandals. It wants Japan to bring home its ships which refuel US and other warjets and vessels in the Indian Ocean.

"You don't have to follow the unilateral opinion of the United States," main opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa told Merkel in a meeting, as quoted by Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, the opposition's shadow foreign minister.

Merkel has called for as many countries to take part in the "war on terror" as possible.

After meeting on Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Merkel said that the international community must "never give in to the threat of terror."

Germany is heavily involved in Afghanistan, where it has contributed some 3,000 troops to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and has six Tornado reconnaissance planes helping to spot Taliban hideouts.

"I am against the current ISAF deployment, although I would support a deployment clearly authorized by a decision of the United Nations," Ozawa told her, according to Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi quoted Merkel as telling him: "If Japan is to play a greater role in the international community, it has to take greater responsibility."

Japan has been officially pacifist since its defeat in World War II, making all of its deployments overseas controversial.

Some 54.6 percent of Japanese voters oppose extending the Indian Ocean mission, said a survey of 1,000 voters released yesterday by the right-leaning newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

Abe, an outspoken conservative, has championed a stronger military role for Japan and revision of the US-imposed 1947 Constitution.

He said after Ozawa's rebuff of Merkel that he would continue to seek cooperation with the main opposition Democratic Party on extending the Indian Ocean mission.

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