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Japan to Streamline Defense Forces to Fight Terrorism


Japan's prime minister Sunday has vowed to make the country's defense forces better able to fight terrorism and any attackers who would use weapons of mass destruction.

During a troop review ceremony Sunday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Japan would fully review the existing structure and weapons of the Self Defense Forces to make them more efficient.

Mr. Koizumi says Japanese forces must be capable of dealing with new threats, such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Concern has mounted here in recent years about North Korean missile and nuclear capabilities. There are also escalating worries about terrorism amid reported threats against Japan by Islamic militants opposed to the U.S.-led war on terror.

The prime minister, speaking Sunday at the Asaka base of the Ground Self-Defense Forces outside Tokyo, gave the strongest hint yet Japan will extend its deployment of non-combat troops in Iraq beyond the scheduled end of tour December 14.

A recent newspaper poll shows more than 60 percent of those surveyed were against extending the one-year troop mission in Iraq.

Last week, Mr. Koizumi said he would not withdraw troops as demanded by militants who took a 24-year-old Japanese backpacker hostage. The group, believed allied with al Qaida terrorist network, later beheaded the captive.

For the first time on Sunday, an opposition party leader attended the annual military review - a possible indication the political bloc may be softening its staunch opposition to deploying Japanese forces overseas. The president of the Democratic Party, Katsuya Okada said he thinks it is important for the opposition to also show its appreciation for the Self-Defense Forces' work in disaster relief and protecting the nation during its 50 years of existence.

The opposition has criticized Mr. Koizumi for strongly supporting President Bush in the war in Iraq. When Mr. Koizumi sent units of the Ground Self-Defense Forces to southern Iraq in January to help in reconstruction efforts, he became the first leader here since World War II to send troops to a nation still experiencing armed conflict.

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