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Japan urged to extend ocean mission

Published: 10:39PM Thursday September 27, 2007 Source: Reuters

Envoys from 11 countries including the United States and Pakistan urged Japan to extend its naval mission in support of US-led operations in Afghanistan.
   
Their statement put further pressure on Japanese opposition parties to drop their stance against allowing the operation to refuel US-led coalition ships to continue.
   
"The members of the coalition acknowledge and greatly appreciate Japan's support...and hope that Japan will continue its important contribution," Pakistani ambassador Kamran Niaz told reporters after the envoys met at his embassy.
   
Pakistan is the only Muslim country taking part in the Indian Ocean operations.

Other countries represented at Thursday's meeting included France, Germany and Afghanistan.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who took office only on Wednesday, has stressed the need to extend the mission beyond its current expiry date of November 1.
   
But the opposition Democratic Party and its small allies are against it and can if they wish delay enabling legislation given their majority in parliament's upper house.
   
Washington says Japan's mission is vital not only for the United States but for the broader international community.

President George W Bush made the point again in a telephone chat with Fukuda on Wednesday.
   
"It's not an American question - it's a question for the international community," US ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer said after the Pakistani embassy meeting.
   
Fukuda's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, abruptly resigned on September 12, saying he wanted to clear the way for a compromise with the opposition over the Indian Ocean mission.

He later said health problems had been a big factor in his decision to quit.
   
Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party and its allies can override any upper house rejection of enabling legislation, given their two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower chamber, but will be watching public opinion so as not to risk a backlash, analysts say.
   
Public support for the Japanese mission has been rising.

A survey by the Nikkei business daily published on Thursday showed that 47% of voters now back the activities against 37% who oppose an extension.
   
Democratic Party leaders have said the mission lacks the imprimatur of the United Nations, and dismissed a recent expression of gratitude for the maritime interdiction operations contained in a UN Security Council Resolution as insufficient.
   
The Democrats also plan to press for more information about what precisely the maritime interdiction mission is accomplishing and whether Japanese fuel provided has been diverted for US operations in Iraq in violation of the enabling legislation, as  some Japanese media reported.

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