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Japan's Lower House Approves Support for Afghan Mission

Japan's lower house of parliament has approved a bill to resume the country's support of a U.S.-led mission to Afghanistan, setting the stage for a political battle with the opposition-controlled upper house.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan has pledged to block the bill in the upper house and prospects for the mission to resume remain uncertain.

The lower house's passage of the bill to let Japan's navy resume refueling U.S. and other ships patrolling the Indian Ocean for drug runners, gun smugglers and other suspected terrorists comes days ahead of a planned visit by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to Washington.

Japan's support of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan will be the likely focus of talks during Mr. Fukuda's visit. He meets President Bush at the White House on Friday.

Mr. Fukuda has said he is working to renew the legislation, which expired earlier this month. Japan's opposition argues the mission lacks a U.N. mandate and violates the nation's pacifist constitution. The U.S. has urged Japan to continue its support operations in the Indian Ocean.

Mr. Fukuda's visit to the United States is his first since becoming prime minister in September.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.