Japan's parliament enacted a law Friday to resume refueling support for foreign vessels participating in antiterrorism operations in and near Afghanistan, through a rare second vote in the lower house.
The bill, which was voted down by the opposition-controlled upper house in the morning, cleared the more powerful House of Representatives with a two-thirds majority vote around 2:00 p.m. local time (0500 GMT) in a 340-133 vote. In November, the lower house had passed the bill once.
The new law, which allows the continuation of refueling operations in the Indian Ocean, defines the activities as supplying oil and water to foreign vessels engaged in antiterrorism maritime interdiction operations in the Indian Ocean and limits the activities to "non-combat" areas in the Indian Ocean. It expires one year after coming into force and allows extension for up to one year.
The United States welcomed the enactment of the law. Shortly after the passage of the bill, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer said in a statement that "the U.S. appreciates the fact that the Japanese government has taken this important step in support of the international community's efforts to create a stable and democratic Afghanistan."
Japan halted a six-year refueling support to U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and near Afghanistan at the end of October, as the special antiterrorism measures law authorizing such operations expired on Nov. 1.
According to local media reports, the Japanese government is expected to adopt an implementation plan at a Cabinet meeting possibly on Jan. 16 and the Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba will then issue an order within the month, so that the Maritime Self- Defense Force could be dispatched to the Indian Ocean to continue the refueling mission around the mid-February at the earliest.
The restart of such missions is considered the most crucial piece of legislation in the current parliament session for the Cabinet under Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. The extraordinary session was extended twice till Jan. 15 to allow enough time to pass the government-sponsored bill.
Under Japan's constitution, if a bill fails to clear the House of Councillors within 60 days, the bill could be sent back to the lower chamber for a second vote, which would be final.
It is the first time in over five decades in Japan that a bill was enacted into law through a second vote in the lower house after being rejected by the upper house. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition New Komeito hold a more than two-thirds majority in the 480-seat lower chamber.
(Xinhua News Agency January 11, 2008)