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Japan extends Afghan military mission

Japan's parliament on Friday approved a one-year extension to a naval mission backing US-led operations in Afghanistan, offering a welcome success to beleaguered conservative Prime Minister Taro Aso.

world Updated: Dec 12, 2008 11:35 IST

Japan's parliament on Friday approved a one-year extension to a naval mission backing US-led operations in Afghanistan, offering a welcome success to beleaguered conservative Prime Minister Taro Aso.

The lower house, where the ruling coalition holds a commanding majority, used its power to approve the bill by overriding the opposition-led upper house which voted down the bill earlier in the day.

The mission, which was due to expire in January, provides fuel and other logistical support on the Indian Ocean to the US-led coalition.

Aso supports a more active security role for Japan, which has been officially pacifist since its defeat in World War II. The opposition, which is rising in the polls, says Japan should not be part of "American wars."

"Japan must continue its part in the war on terror and continue the refuelling mission so as to assume its responsibilities as a member of the international community," Tsuyoshi Takagi, a lawmaker of Aso's Liberal Democratic Party, said in parliament.

Aso took office in late September in hopes of leading the long-dominant ruling party into elections, but his approval rating has rapidly fallen as the world's second largest economy falters.

Aso was expected later Friday to unveil a bigger package to help Japan weather the global financial crisis.

The sharp-tongued prime minister has also lost support by making a series of offensive remarks, including criticising the elderly in the rapidly greying country for not staying physically fit.

The opposition last year forced a temporary halt to the Indian Ocean mission by refusing to vote on it in the upper house.

This year, the opposition offered to vote the bill down -- effectively letting it pass -- in return for Aso calling early elections or at least taking quick action on a new supplementary budget.

However, Aso has indicated he is in no hurry to call elections or start debate on a new budget, which is separate from his emergency package.