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Japan's Parliament to Vote on Military Bill - 2001-10-17

The powerful lower house of Japan's Parliament is expected to vote Thursday on legislation that would allow Japanese troops to support U.S. led military operations against terrorism. A key parliamentary panel has already approved the bill.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has strongly backed a new law to allow Japan to provide non-combat support for the United States in its fight against terrorism.

Japan's constitution bans military action unless the country is under direct threat.

Mr. Koizumi is expected to present the legislation to parliament's lower house Thursday and to the less-powerful upper house next week. Its success is virtually assured since the ruling coalition holds majorities in both chambers.

The bill cleared one hurdle late Tuesday when a key panel of legislators approved it.

Mr. Koizumi says he is "grateful for the support of the politicians on the panel." He adds that "the bill's passage is proving to be a long, arduous process."

The prime minister failed to secure the support of the main opposition Democratic Party earlier this week. It wanted to modify the bill so that the government would have to seek Parliament's approval before dispatching troops. Mr. Koizumi rejected that proposal.

Polls released Wednesday indicate that the Japanese public continues to back Mr. Koizumi. Surveys published by two newspapers show that 51 percent to 57 percent of those surveyed support his proposals.

One poll also finds that Mr. Koizumi remains extremely popular. Eighty-one-percent of those polled support the prime minister and his cabinet. His popularity has remained above 80 percent since he took office last April.