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Japanese Parliament Extends Session to Pass Key Legislation

Japan's ruling coalition has announced Parliament will extend its current session in order to pass key legislation. Lawmakers will work another 42 days to break the deadlock on bills considered essential to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's reform agenda.

Top officials of Japan's three-party ruling coalition agreed Monday to keep Parliament open through July 31 so that four outstanding legislative packages have the chance to win approval. The session was scheduled to end Wednesday.

Topping the legislative priority list is a package to strengthen the Japanese military in case of a foreign attack. If passed, it would create a new agency to coordinate defense and provide more cooperation with the 35,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan.

Critics say such laws would lead to a renewed militarism in Japan.

Protesters gathered in Tokyo Sunday to denounce the bills as a violation of Japan's pacifist constitution. One protest organizer said the proposed legislation will lead the entire nation to take part in war.

Japan's military led the occupation of much of Asia in the early 20th century. After a defeat in World War II, Japan placed strict limits on its defense forces. But the new global terrorist threat has prompted the government to re-evaluate its security needs.

Lawmakers will also consider stronger privacy laws to protect personal records. Detractors say such a bill would make it harder to expose political corruption.

Two other measures, on medical insurance and privatizing the postal system, are considered key pillars of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's stalled structural reform agenda.

Passage of this legislation could help boost Mr. Koizumi's flagging public support ratings, now down to about 40-percent from more than 80-percent when he first took office in April 2001.

Mr. Koizumi said he will do his best to get all the pending legislation approved during this longer than usual parliamentary session.