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Japan PM to force Afghan bill, risk election: paper

Tokyo, December 6, 2007 (Reuters): Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda plans to force a law through parliament to resume a naval mission supporting the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, risking a clash with the opposition that could trigger an early election, a newspaper said on Thursday.

Fukuda has repeatedly stressed the need for Japan to resume its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, but a bill to do so has been bogged down in parliament's upper house, which is controlled by the opposition.

The Yomiuri newspaper said Fukuda has decided to extend the parliament session to mid-January so the ruling bloc can override the expected rejection of the bill by the upper house by using its overwhelming majority in the more powerful lower chamber.

A two-thirds majority in the lower house can override upper chamber decisions, though the step is rare and time-consuming and could fail to win popular support.

Bunmei Ibuki, secretary-general of Fukuda's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), told a news conference that no decision had been made, but others said a lower house vote was likely.

"I think there will be a vote on the bill with the two-thirds majority," senior LDP lawmaker Taku Yamasaki told a party gathering.

Opposition lawmakers have threatened to adopt a rare censure motion against the prime minister should he resort to using the lower house majority, which political analysts say could lead Fukuda to call a snap election.

But Yamasaki stressed that the motion was non-binding and there would be no need for an election to be called.

"We won't have to dissolve parliament or have a general election for the time being, so we can go on compiling the budget (for next fiscal year) for the public's well-being and hold debate on the budget."

A poll in the Asahi newspaper on Tuesday showed 46 percent of voters said it was "reasonable" for the ruling bloc to use its two-thirds majority in the lower chamber to enact the bill, while 37 percent said it would be "unreasonable."

No lower house election need be held until late 2009, but analysts and lawmakers say the prime minister could call one early next year if the stalemate over the legislation deepens.

Japanese politics was thrown into turmoil last month when Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa discussed a coalition with Fukuda then tendered his resignation when his party executives rejected the idea. He decided to stay on after Democratic lawmakers, fearing he might defect to the ruling camp, begged him not to quit.

The Japanese mission refueling U.S. and other ships patrolling the Indian Ocean for drug runners and suspected terrorists was halted in November after the government and opposition failed to agree to renew a measure authorizing it.