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Japan passes anti-piracy law

JAPAN'S parliament passed a law today allowing its warships to protect commercial vessels from pirate attacks off Somalia, an official said.

Japan has joined multinational forces in the fight against pirates off the Somali coast by sending two destroyers and two surveillance planes. It is the first international policing assignment for Japan's military since World War II.

Since the two military ships were dispatched in March, Japan was only able to guard Japanese vessels. But the new law allows Japan's military to escort foreign vessels as well. The law was passed by the lower house of parliament Friday, the parliament official said.

The official declined to be named, citing department policy.

The activities of Japan's military are highly restricted as the country's postwar constitution limits its military to conducting only defensive operations.

Around 550 Japanese military personnel on the anti-piracy mission are allowed to use weapons only in self-defense or under emergency circumstances.

Somalia, without a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991, has failed to protect citizens while it battles a growing Islamist insurgency. Authorities say marauding criminals in speedboats attacked more than 100 ships off Somalia's coast last year, including high-profile hijackings with multimillion-dollar ransom demands.

Japan has conducted a naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean since 2001 to support US-led forces in Afghanistan. The mission is now limited to refueling vessels making anti-terrorism patrols, following opposition protests.


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