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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday condemned rallies staged worldwide over the weekend against a threatened U.S.-led attack on Iraq, saying they could send the wrong message to Baghdad.

“We have to be careful not to send the wrong message that Iraq is in the right,” Koizumi said when asked by reporters what he felt about the protests.

Japan, which had said it would make its stance clear after arms inspectors reported to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, is still reluctant to state whether it would support a U.S.-led strike against Iraq.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, pressed in the morning by an opposition lawmaker at the House of Representatives Budget Committee, replied “it is not appropriate to say at this moment” whether Tokyo would support a war. Koizumi’s remarks demonstrate Japan sides with the United States, but he avoided articulating that by simply blaming Iraq.

“The ball is in Iraq’s court,” Koizumi said. “We have to send the message that they must cooperate with the international community.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda meanwhile criticized the position of France and other countries seeking an extension of the U.N. arms inspections. “The opinions are divided, and this is sending the wrong message to Iraq.” that they can still act the way they had,” he said.

On the antiwar rallies, Fukuda said the protesters are marching as if a military attack has already been decided. “A peaceful solution is the best way to go, but whether that will be possible depends on whether Iraq decides (to give up its weapons).”

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