| GEO World|
| Japan PM frontrunner would end Afghan support|
| Updated at: 1802 PST, Wednesday, July 29, 2009|
TOKYO: Japan's opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama, seen as the likely next premier, said Wednesday he would early next year end a naval support mission backing US-led forces in Afghanistan, media reported.
"Our basic stance is not to extend it," the president of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was quoted as saying by Jiji Press while he was campaigning for the August 30 vote which his party is widely tipped to win.
The Indian Ocean naval mission -- which began in December 2001 and has been periodically renewed since then by Japan's conservative government -- provides fuel and other logistical support to the US-led coalition.
Media reports earlier Wednesday quoted an unnamed top DPJ official as saying that, if the party takes power in September, it would not renew the mandate for the mission when it expires in January.
The DPJ would seek to placate Washington by instead launching new humanitarian aid projects for Afghanistan, the reports said.
The reports drew immediate fire from the government, which accused the DPJ of lacking a clear foreign policy and security agenda.
The DPJ, highlighting Japan's pacifist constitution, has long argued that Japan should not take part in "American wars" and should instead focus on humanitarian and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
But with the election nearing, the party has backed off an earlier pledge to end the naval mission immediately if it ends half a century of nearly unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.
The top government spokesman, Takeo Kawamura, Wednesday accused the DPJ, a broad coalition spanning pacifists and hawks, of being inconsistent.
"I'm afraid the DPJ has not yet concluded a party position," Kawamura told a regular media briefing. "I want it to present its clear position to the public, not the opinions of all its different members."
Kawamura added that "we believe it is an international expectation that Japan continues on this mission".