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Japanese Cabinet Endorses Expanded Military Role - 2001-10-05

The Japanese cabinet has endorsed two bills that will expand the role of the military so it can aid the U.S. led fight against terrorism. The bills now await expected approval from the Japanese parliament.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet has officially backed two draft laws that would give Japan's self defense forces a bigger role in supporting possible U.S. led reprisals against terrorists.

The legislation, which is highly controversial, would permit Japanese forces to provide non-combat support to any U.S. military retaliation for last month's attacks in New York and Washington. It would also allow the Japanese military to guard U.S. bases on its soil.

Currently, Japan's post-World War II Constitution bans military action except in defense of the country's borders. Mr. Koizumi on Friday reiterated his view that Washington deserves Tokyo's support. The prime minister says the legislation is important because it means that Japan will cooperate with other countries in order to eradicate and prevent terrorist attacks. He says he hopes it will be passed by Parliament as soon as possible.

Lawmakers will debate the bills next week, and are expected to approve them later this month. However, some opposition parties are likely to put up a bitter fight.

Some Asian nations, mindful of Japan's militaristic past, are concerned about any increasing role for the country's armed forces.

Public opinion appears to be firmly behind the prime minister. Recent polls show up to 90 percent of the public support his view that Japan must back any U.S. led campaign against terrorism. Japan was embarrassed after other nations criticized it for contributing only money to the Gulf War in 1991, and now Mr. Koizumi and other conservative leaders say they are eager for a more visible role.

Japan's cabinet also approved Friday the use of Japanese military aircraft to take aid supplies to Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Those flights are expected to leave as early as Saturday.