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Japan Approves Anti-Terrorism Naval Mission in Afghanistan

Japan's lower house of parliament has forced through a controversial anti-terrorism law reviving an Indian Ocean naval mission supporting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. The bill's approval came after the more powerful lower house used a rare second vote to override a rejection in the upper house. Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's ruling coalition took the very rare step of using a two-thirds majority to override a rejection in the upper house of parliament. Such a step has only been used once before, more than 50 years ago. The approval is seen as a victory for Mr. Fukuda, who supports Japan's presence in Southeast Asia.

Japan has supplied fuel to U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan since 2001, under legislation allowing participation in post-September 11 operations.

Lawmakers had extended the mission repeatedly in the past, but the mission expired last November because of a stalemate in parliament.

The country's opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which won control of the upper house of parliament last July, refused to back the extension. Opposition lawmakers had argued that the mission lacks a mandate from the United Nations, and that it goes against the country's pacifist constitution, which forbids it from engaging in warfare overseas.

Jeff Kingston, a professor of politics at Temple University in Japan, says approval of the new mission is good news for the Japan-U.S. alliance.

"I don't think that the refueling was critical to the operation, but I think symbolically this is important for the U.S. administration and I think that in that sense it is good," he said.

But, Kingston says there is still some concern in Japan about what the country's security posture should be in the international community.

"And I think this is not a debate that is going to go away. It hasn't been solved today. And I think what they've done is shelved it for another year. But it's still going to be a divisive political issue for some time to come," said Kingston.

Japan has struggled in recent years to reinvent itself as a nation more involved in helping to resolve international conflicts.

Tokyo's ships will be allowed to return to the Indian Ocean as soon as next month.

During its six-year mission, Japan provided about 480,000 kiloliters of fuel to coalition warships in the Indian Ocean, including vessels from the United States, Britain and Pakistan.

Japan's role in the war on terrorism also included a deployment of 600 self-defense forces in southern Iraq, which ended last year.