Japan opposition stands ground on Afghan mission

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s opposition stood firm Thursday against resuming a naval mission supporting the US-led “war on terror” in Afghanistan as a ship returned home from the Indian Ocean.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda made a new pitch to the opposition hours after returning from a two-nation trip which included a trip to Washington where he promised US President George W. Bush he would work to restart the deployment.

“He called for support for the Afghan refuelling mission… He pleaded over and over again,” main opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa told reporters after he met Fukuda.

Ozawa said he rejected Fukuda’s proposal to have consultations on resuming the naval mission, which provided fuel and other logistical support to troops in Afghanistan.

“We will pursue the policy of having debate in parliament,” he said, arguing his party’s view on how Japan’s troops should contribute to the global fight against terrorism was “fundamentally different” from that of the ruling party.

The opposition, which won control of the upper house of parliament in July 29 polls, opposed the mission arguing that it is against the nation’s pacifist constitution and Japan has been too close to the Bush administration.

Fukuda, whose predecessor quit in part over the row, discussed the Indian Ocean mission during a visit last week to the US to meet Bush. He returned to Japan early Thursday after taking part in an Asian summit in Singapore.

Fukuda argues that Japan must play a greater role in international security as the world’s second largest economy. But the government was forced to call the ships home on November 1 as legislation expired amid legislative deadlock.

The Kirisame destroyer, which had been at sea for four months, returned Thursday morning to Sasebo port in southwestern Nagasaki prefecture, television footage showed.

The other ship in the mission, the Tokiwa oiler, is due to return to Tokyo on Friday, a defence ministry official said.

The opposition’s refusal to cooperate with Fukuda raises the possibility that the ruling bloc’s bill to resume the Afghan mission may remain stuck in the opposition-led upper house as the current session expires on December 15.

Ozawa said “there is not enough time left” for full deliberation of the bill in the upper house.

He blamed the ruling camp for “wasting time” after the election setback.

“In the first place, the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party failed to recognise what would happen after seeing the results on July 29,” he said.

The opposition has also said it would first probe a growing corruption scandal before considering Fukuda’s bill, which was sent by the lower house last week with an overwhelming majority by the ruling coalition.

The scandal has implicated Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga, who admitted playing golf with a defence contractor, former Yamada Corp. executive Motonobu Miyazaki, who has been arrested on embezzlement and document forgery charges.

Nukaga, who has also served as defence chief before, has denied any wrongdoing.

The defence ministry said Thursday it has suspended trade with Yamada and its US subsidiary as its president admitted padding bills on military supplies.