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Japan: Koizumi Approved for Second Term - 2003-11-19

Japanese legislators approved a second term in office for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Wednesday, a formality after his ruling coalition won a narrow victory in a general election held November 9. He must now push ahead with plans to reform the economy and to send troops to Iraq - despite heavy opposition.

Yohei Kono, the speaker of Japan's lower house of Parliament, announces that Junichiro Koizumi has been re-elected prime minister. The vote on Wednesday was expected, since Mr. Koizumi's coalition secured a majority of seats in the powerful lower house in a general election 10 days ago.

Mr. Koizumi took office in April 2001, pledging to reform the economy by stopping wasteful government spending, privatizing more industries and strengthening the ailing banking sector. So far, he has faced heavy resistance from old guard members within his party, the Liberal Democrats. His success in rekindling the economy has been limited and now Mr. Koizumi is under heavy pressure from voters and the opposition to make good on his promises.

Now he must also grapple with the deeply controversial issue of whether to back the U.S.-led effort to rebuild Iraq by sending in Japanese troops.

Tokyo's plan to dispatch troops was put on hold earlier this month because of security concerns. A recent attack in southern Iraq that killed 18 Italians stunned the Japanese public and increased opposition to the idea of sending in Japanese soldiers. Japan's constitution forbids the nation's military from taking part in international conflicts, so its troops in Iraq and elsewhere are strictly limited to peaceful activities.

Mr. Koizumi said Wednesday that Japan will not participate in any battles in Iraq, but will do its utmost to help reconstruct the country. He adds that the government needs to carefully consider safety conditions in Iraq when sending troops or civilians.

In another incident increasing security worries, gunshots were heard outside of the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad Tuesday, but no one was injured. Government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says the government will investigate the cause of the incident and if necessary, security will be tightened.

Public concerns have also increased because of two warnings of car bomb attacks in Japan, the United States and other nations recently received by London-based Arabic-language newspapers. Those threats prompted the Japanese government to issue an alert Monday for its citizens living or traveling abroad.