Source AP ©

Japan split over whether to extend Afghan mission

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to stake his job on parliament and continue the dispatch divided Japan over whether to extend a mission supporting coalition forces in Afghanistan, a poll said.

Japan's navy has been providing fuel for coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since November 2001 under a special anti-terrorism law that has already been extended three times. The legislation, which expires in November, is a key issue of the extraordinary parliament session that opened Monday.

According to a poll published Tuesday in the Yomiuri, Japan's largest daily, 39 percent of respondents said they oppose the extension, while 29 percent said they support it. Another 29 percent said they had no opinion.

Separately, 27 percent of respondents to a poll by public broadcaster NHK, released late Monday, said they supported an extension, and another 27 percent opposed it. Thirty-eight percent were undecided.

Abe could push the extension through, because his ruling Liberal Democratic Party controls the lower house which has the final say in most legislation.

But the issue has been shaping up to be a major showdown with opposition parties.

The opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, has been strengthened by the July 29 elections and now controls the upper house.

U.S. President George W. Bush recently expressed hope Tokyo would extend the mission, but critics in Japan say such pro-U.S. operations violate Japan's pacifist constitution, which strictly limits the country's military activities.

The Democratic Party's leader, Ichiro Ozawa, says Japan should only participate in U.N.-led peacekeeping missions.

Anticipating a fierce backlash from the opposition, the government may submit fresh legislation instead of seeking an extension of the current special law, Japanese media reported. The new legislation may include providing logistic support for U.N.-led peacekeeping missions as a concession to the Democrats, according to the media.

The extension could be submitted to the parliament as early as late September, Kyodo News agency reported Tuesday.

"I think the people's opinions on the special law are mostly negative," Ozawa told a press conference Tuesday. "Still, I think most people are also aware that Japan, too, should contribute to the international community."

Abe indicated Sunday that he would step down should the extension fail.

"I would not cling to my job as prime minister," he said. "I have to make every effort to continue the fueling mission.

In the Yomiuri poll, support for Abe's Cabinet rose slightly to 29 percent, from 27.2 percent in a similar poll in August, shortly after the upper house election. The disapproval rate improved to 60.7 percent, from 63.7 percent.

Yomiuri conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,787 eligible voters nationwide on Saturday and Sunday. NHK interviewed 1,146 people Friday through Sunday. No margin of error was provided in either poll, as is customary in Japan.

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