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The first one-on-one debate Wednesday between opposition leaders and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi once again revealed the opposition’s lack of ability to corner the nation’s leader.

Contrary to widely held expectations, the opposition failed to attack Koizumi over a series of controversial remarks by Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka that may damage Japan’s relations with the United States.

Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, sprinkled his speech with praise for Koizumi’s determination toward reform, urging him to map out specific measures to use road-building revenues for general spending before the Upper House election in July.

Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii attacked Koizumi for referring to the possibility of engaging in collective defense.

“A package of security guidelines (legislated in 1999) enables Japan to support its allies in various ways such as the transportation of weapons and ammunition, and injured soldiers,” Shii said. “What more can there be?”

Koizumi reiterated his position that Japan should “study” the issue concerning collective defense and its relation with Article 9 of the Constitution. Takako Doi, leader of the Social Democratic Party, went out of her way to praise Tanaka for questioning Washington’s missile defense strategy.

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