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Japanese companies in the Middle East stepped up emergency plans Tuesday after U.S. President George W. Bush told Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave the country within 48 hours or face war.

Marubeni Corp., which had the families of its employees working in Qatar leave for Japan on Monday, held an emergency meeting to cope with the latest development.

“The situation has changed dramatically now that the time frame of 48 hours has been given,” a Marubeni spokesman said. “We’ll consider evacuating our employees (from the Middle East) based on information we can get here from inside Japan and from the region as well.”

Fellow trading houses Mitsui & Co. and Sumitomo Corp. have already moved their employees stationed in Kuwait, a possible target of bombardment by Iraq.

Like Marubeni, Mitsui and Sumitomo plan to move their employees from a wider area of the Middle East for safety.

Arabian Oil Co., Japan’s biggest crude oil producer, still has about 100 Japanese employees at the Khafji oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia, near the border of Kuwait, as part of a joint project with Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti corporations.

“We’re still gathering information, but you know it’s difficult for only Japanese to leave there,” an Arabian Oil official said, noting that about 1,800 people from more than 10 countries are working at the oil field.

The official said the company is preparing to supply its workers with gas masks and move them to a location, possibly in southern Saudi Arabia, thought to be beyond the reach of Iraqi missiles, as soon as the Khafji project’s operations are suspended.

A Japanese school in Kuwait has been closed since mid-February, and a Riyadh school has taken its spring break earlier than usual. They are among nine Japanese schools in Middle Eastern countries, which have a total enrollment of 300 students.

Execs back Koizumi

Staff report The chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) said Tuesday that the government will have no choice but to shoulder part of the expenses of a U.S.-led war against Iraq and subsequent reconstruction efforts.

“Even if the war ends in a short period of time,” said Yotaro Kobayashi, “Japan has to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq. I don’t think it will have a major impact on Japan’s economy, but it could be a concern” in connection with the already sluggish economy.

If the government announces it plans a temporary hike in the corporate tax to cover any war costs, businesses will have no choice but to cooperate, Kobayashi said.

He also said possible increases in oil prices would have a negative effect on the nation’s industrial activities. Japan relies heavily on the Middle East for oil.

Kobayashi expressed support for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s backing of the U.S. push for a military solution, saying the government should protect the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

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