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The Diet convened its 156th session Monday, with the economy and a set of bills to give the government more powers in the event of an attack topping the agenda.

The ordinary session is scheduled to run 150 days through June 18, but many political observers expect it to be extended, given the number of contentious bills in store, including a package aimed at giving the government an enhanced legal framework to deal with the possibility of attack by another nation.

“We’d like to enact (the war-contingency bills) in particular during this session by gaining the understanding of the nation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said.

The ruling bloc is seeking Diet approval of the supplementary budget by Jan. 30. Once approved, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expected to deliver a key policy speech. The bills are assured passage as the ruling coalition, led by Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, holds a majority in both chambers.

Backing a possible U.S.-led operation against Iraq may also be a key topic of debate. The government hopes such debate and possible noncombat support will strengthen Japan’s standing in the international community.

The opposition camp is gearing up for the economic policy debate, in which the Democratic Party of Japan is expected to focus on public anxiety amid the ongoing economic slump. The DPJ blames Koizumi for failing to fight deflation and use the budget to create new jobs and economic demand.

“Prime Minister Koizumi has been unable to realize either economic structural reforms or recovery of the economy,” DPJ leader Naoto Kan said in the leadup to the opening Diet session.

Crown Prince Naruhito attended the opening ceremony on behalf of Emperor Akihito, who is recovering from a prostatectomy.

Shiokawa wants action

Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa called Monday for swift passage of a 2.46 trillion yen supplementary budget aimed at providing a safety net amid the economic slump.

The government submitted the package to the House of Representatives on Monday as the new Diet session opened.

“The country’s economy is showing signs of recovery, albeit weakly,” Shiokawa told the Lower House. “The government has to do all it can do to prepare for what will happen after banks accelerate their disposal of bad loans.”

The supplementary package, crafted in October, features measures to support small and midsize businesses and job-hunting efforts by the unemployed, as well as the development of new industries. It also focuses on developing infrastructure for Japan’s rapidly aging society and redevelopment of the Tokyo metropolitan area.

As a result, an additional 4.97 trillion yen in government bonds will be issued to cover a decline in tax revenue, thereby sending the fiscal 2002 total to 34.97 trillion yen, easily breaking the 30 trillion yen issuance cap pledged by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

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