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Japan PM begs support of stalled Afghan naval mission

Tokyo, December 5, 2007 (The Canadian Press): Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda pleaded for support Tuesday for a bill to resume a naval mission in the Indian Ocean but the legislation remained stalled in the opposition-controlled upper house of the legislature.

Japan's warships had refuelled vessels from countries in the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 but withdrew Nov. 1 after opposition parties raised concerns the operations did not have explicit support from the United Nations and possibly violated Japan's pacifist constitution.

The sudden retreat was a major embarrassment for the administration of Fukuda, who has been a staunch supporter of a continued presence for Japan in the region.

The government has submitted a bill that would allow the ships to be deployed again but in a more limited role. The lower house, which is controlled by Fukuda's party, passed the bill earlier this month.

"This is one of few missions Japan is engaged in, and I really want you to let us resume the mission," Fukuda told the upper house's foreign affairs and defence committee.

Fukuda's administration hopes to pass the legislation by Dec. 15, when the current session ends but there are few signs of opposition legislators backing down.

Fukuda's remarks came as the Defence Ministry is embroiled in a damaging bribery scandal.

Prosecutors arrested former vice-minister of defence Takemasa Moriya, 63, and his wife last week on suspicion they accepted lavish gifts from companies - including one linked to General Electric - in exchange for contracts.

"We need to thoroughly reform the ministry to stop something like this from happening again," Fukuda said.

The opposition bloc, which took control of the upper house in July elections, has used the scandal to slow progress on the legislation to renew the Indian Ocean mission.