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Japan to Create Ministry of Defense
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A bill raised by the Japanese government to upgrade the Defense Agency into a ministry passed the Lower House Thursday afternoon backed by the majority enjoyed by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party, as well as the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
The bill, the first of its kind to be introduced by the government, was approved at a lower house plenary session after clearing the Security Committee earlier in the day.

Despite opposition from the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, the proposed legislature should pass the Upper House during the current Diet session ending Dec.15, Kyodo News said.

After the agency's upgrade, it will be headed by a "Defense Minister," instead of a current director general, a role held by a state minister. The upgraded authority of the administrative chief will include being able to call a Cabinet meeting and requesting budgets directly from the Finance Ministry.

The agency upgrade, hailed as a "historic process" by some defense agency officials, was described as necessary and natural by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who said it would enable the prospective ministry to deal with all kinds of situations more appropriately.

Another bill proposes revising a set of laws to upgrade peacekeeping, disaster relief and other international cooperation operations into the Self-Defense Forces' essential duties from their current subordinate positions will also clear the lower house, Kyodo said.

The Defense Agency, established in 1954, has been severely restricted within Japan's war-renouncing pacifist Constitution. Its main task now is national security and internal disaster relief. As an affiliate of the Cabinet Office, the agency is under the direct control of the prime minister.

(Xinhua News Agency December 1, 2006)

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