The opposition insisted yesterday on elections to test Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's mandate, and demanded a halt to Tokyo's naval support of US-led operations in Afghanistan.
But Fukuda said Japan will keep supporting anti-terrorist activities in both Afghanistan and Iraq, that debate is not what the country needs and that the global fight against terrorism continues.
For the first time since he was sworn in on Sept. 26, Fukuda faced a grilling in the parliament's lower house by Yukio Hatoyama, a leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
Hatoyama said Fukuda does not have a mandate because the opposition bloc won the most seats in recent elections.
"Prime Minister Fukuda, your first job is to dissolve the lower house and determine the will of the people in a general election," he said.
"What we are expected to do is to take seriously the people's distrust and to respond thoroughly to their concerns, not debate whether to dissolve parliament," he said.
Fukuda replaced Shinzo Abe, who resigned last month after a series of scandals involving his Cabinet and a humiliating defeat in July upper house elections.
The opposition now dominates the upper house. But because the ruling party continues to control the lower house, elections appear unlikely. The prime minister can call them earlier, but a vote need not be held until 2009 and the ruling party was not expected to rush into one after its July debacle.
In the meantime, Fukuda was expected to take a beating from the emboldened opposition.
In a policy speech on Monday, Fukuda promised to focus on friendly ties with Asian neighbors while keeping the country active in international peacekeeping efforts.
He renewed his commitment to continue Japan's naval mission in support of US-led military operations in Afghanistan, despite strong resistance from the opposition bloc.
The Japanese navy has been providing fuel for coalition forces in Afghanistan since 2001 under an anti-terrorism law, which expires on Nov. 1.
The government is considering fresh legislation that would limit the mission strictly to naval refueling and supplying water to its allies. The law allows more leeway in what kind of support the military can provide.
"Whether it is an extension or a new law, we oppose continuing the current activities because of the lack of a UN resolution," Hatoyama said. "The government does not have any vision or an exit strategy."
Hatoyama also proposed halting Japan's mission to airlift UN and coalition personnel and supplies into Iraq from Kuwait.
However, Fukuda said Japan has no immediate plans to halt the mission.
"The stabilization and recovery of Iraq is only half done," he said.
Hatoyama also accused the government of not disclosing enough information about the activities of its missions to support Afghanistan and Iraq.
Fukuda recognized the need to reveal as much information as possible but also said the government has to safeguard national security.
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