U.S. Refueling Mission Faces Opposition in Japan

The head of Japan's opposition said Wednesday that a refueling mission in support of U.S.-led operations in the Indian Ocean will end in January if his party takes power in next month's elections.

Yukio Hatoyama said his Democratic Party's position has always been against extending the law that allows for the mission, which partially supports U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The mission, which began in 2001, has in the past been briefly suspended due to political opposition, but legislation was approved last year to continue it through January 2010.

"Our basic position is not to extend it," Hatoyama told reporters during a campaign stop in Japan's southwestern Kumamoto prefecture.

The Democrats are attempting to oust the pro-U.S. Liberal Democrats, who have ruled Japan almost continuously since 1955, in parliamentary elections Aug. 30. Analysts believe the Democrats have a good chance of winning.

In their campaign platform released Monday, the Democrats skirted the issue of the Indian Ocean mission.

Instead, they reiterated that they see Japan's security alliance with the U.S. as the keystone of its foreign policy. They also said they want a free trade agreement with Washington.

The Democrats include some leftist-leaning lawmakers who consider the refueling mission a violation of the pacifist constitution, which tends to restrict Japan's military role to self-defense. Others don't like it because it is not a U.N. peacekeeping mission.