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Upper house panel chief hints at voting on refueling bill this year.

TOKYO, Dec. 7 Kyodo

The chief of the House of Councillors' Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hinted Friday that the panel will vote by the end of this year on the government-proposed bill to allow Japan to resume its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean if the Diet session were to be extended again beyond the scheduled Dec. 15 adjournment.

Meanwhile, the government and the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party continue to make arrangements on whether to extend the Diet session, with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who doubles as LDP head, and New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota expected to hold a top meeting next week to make a final decision.

Under consideration are the two proposals of extending the Diet session until the end of this month or mid-January.

Toshimi Kitazawa, the upper house committee's chairman who is from the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters, ''We will certainly vote on it. We will not leave it unattended for 60 days.''

Kitazawa was referring to a constitutional provision in which a bill that has passed the House of Representatives could be sent back to the lower house for a revote in the event the upper house fails to vote on it within 60 days.

The bill could also be sent back to the lower house if the upper house rejects the bill and would become law with a two-thirds majority vote. The ruling coalition holds a two-thirds majority in the more powerful chamber.

In mid-November, the lower house passed the contentious bill to resume the refueling mission in support of U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and near Afghanistan and sent it to the opposition-controlled upper house for deliberations.

The ongoing extraordinary Diet session, originally scheduled to end Nov. 10, was extended by 35 days through Dec. 15, with the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party looking to pass the refueling bill.

The DPJ, which overtook the LDP to become the biggest group in the upper house following the July election for half of the seats in that chamber, has asserted that the time spent on deliberations on the bill in the upper house should be equivalent to that in the lower house, which used about 40 hours for the bill.

Calculating the time needed to accumulate 40 hours in the upper house, the vote is likely to take place around Dec. 25 if parliamentary business proceeds smoothly.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said in a press conference that Kitazawa's comments do not reflect a decision made by the party and that there is no telling whether the upper house will end up voting on the bill before the end of the year.

But Hatoyama said his view may be similar to that of Kitazawa's in the sense that he does not think the DPJ should take the attitude of refusing to deliberate on the bill.

The bill in question is aimed at establishing a temporary one-year law that would authorize Japanese logistical support for the U.S.-led antiterrorism operations while limiting the mission to the provision of oil and water.

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels halted refueling operations in the Indian Ocean on Nov. 1, the day the previous law authorizing the mission expired.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Dec 8, 2007
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