Abe ready to resign over refueling vote

Updated: 2007-09-09 18:57

SYDNEY, Australia - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he was ready to resign if parliament fails to extend Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of US-led anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens to reporters during a press conference at a hotel in Sydey, Australia, Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9, 2007 after attending the weekend meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. [AP]

The renewal of the legislation that allows the refueling mission is expected to be one of the main topics of debate at an extraordinary session of parliament that convenes Monday.

"I would not cling to my job as prime minister," Abe told a news conference, when asked what would happen if the vote fails. Abe was in Sydney for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which ended Sunday.

Japan's navy has provided fuel for coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since November 2001 under a special anti-terrorism law set to expire on November 1. It already had been extended in 2003 for two years and again for a year in 2005.

Some critics say such pro-US missions violate the nation's pacifist constitution, which strictly limits Japan's Self-Defense Force.

The opposition Democratic Party, which trounced Abe's ruling bloc in Upper House elections in July, opposes the extension. The Democrats' leader Ichiro Ozawa says Japan should only participate in UN-led peacekeeping missions.

Abe said he would seek to persuade the Democrats to agree to continue the mission.

"In submitting the bill, I must first make every effort to obtain the understanding of the opposition parties, including the Democrats," Abe said. "I must put every effort possible into getting the mission extended."

The Indian Ocean dispatch has been part of Tokyo's recent attempts to raise its international profile. Under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who stepped down last year, Japan also sent non-combat troops to southern Iraq to assist in US-led reconstruction efforts.

Both operations were criticized by some in Japan as violating the nation's pacifist constitution, which prohibits the use of force in solving international disputes.

Abe has pledged to follow an assertive foreign policy and military role. He has voiced support for amending the constitution to join more peacekeeping missions and work more closely with US forces.

After a one-on-one meeting Saturday on the sidelines of the APEC summit, President Bush called Tokyo's mission "vital."

"Japan provides a vital service not only to the United States, but to other countries as a refueler of our ships," Bush said.

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