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The government took steps Thursday to bolster security throughout the country to guard against possible terrorist attacks following the launch of the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

The National Police Agency set up an emergency terrorism task force, beefing up security around U.S.-related installations and some 50 key infrastructure facilities, including nuclear power plants and airports.

In the largest security measures ever taken to counter possible terror attacks, the agency also ordered police forces to tighten security near landmark facilities and any place people congregate in large numbers.

It also ordered police to work closely with immigration authorities and reinforce patrols along coastlines to prevent incursions, while intensifying exchanges of intelligence with concerned agencies of other governments.

“We have received no information pointing to a concrete terrorist threat,” a police agency official said.

The Metropolitan Police Department set up a command office to deal with security threats, deploying 5,000 officers to guard against terrorist and guerrilla attacks against possible targets, including the U.S. Air Force Yokota base and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

Takeo Hiranuma, economy, trade and industry minister, said he has asked Sadakazu Tanigaki, National Public Safety Commission chairman, and Chikage Ogi, land, infrastructure and transport minister, to have police and the Japan Coast Guard keep close watch on nuclear reactors.

Hiranuma added that he will ask 16 companies, including power firms, to beef up their security measures for the reactors and related facilities.

There are more than 50 nuclear reactors operating in Japan, and it is feared that they could become targets of terrorist attacks.

Based on Hiranuma’s instructions, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency ordered energy operators, including gas firms, power firms and petrochemical firms, to tighten security.

Separately, Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa said he has ordered customs officials to beef up inspections, including of cargo.

Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama also said she has ordered immigration officials to tighten controls to prevent terrorists from entering Japan and called on authorities to beef up patrols at international airports.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi said the ministry is expediting measures to counter biological and chemical weapons, but noted that terrorist attacks using such weapons in Japan are unlikely.

“I believe it is unlikely in Japan, but we must reinforce our system to be prepared for the unlikely. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will deal with it responsibly,” Sakaguchi told reporters.

He said measures are being taken to deal with an attack involving chemical weapons or the spread of anthrax or smallpox.

The Foreign Ministry meanwhile issued a warning to Japanese embassies and consulates around the world to take precautions against possible terrorist attacks.

The ministry urged embassy officials to warn Japanese nationals abroad to pay attention to security information and review procedures in confirming their safety.

Embassy officials were told to gather information on terrorists around the world and swiftly report any emergency to Tokyo.

The ministry also called for stepping up security at ambassadors’ official residences and Japanese schools abroad that terrorists might consider as targets.

The ministry set up a task force to deal with the Iraq situation that will gather information on the safety of Japanese nationals in Iraq and neighboring countries, and other issues related to Iraq.

Base security bolstered

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Security was tightened and flight drills were held at U.S. military bases across the country on Thursday, following the start of the U.S.-led offensive in Iraq.

At the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, takeoff drills involving refueling aircraft, surveillance planes, airborne warning and control system aircraft and other planes were observed starting in the morning.

A refueling aircraft was seen conducting “touch-and-go” drills.

U.S. officials said most of the 800 soldiers stationed at Kadena have been deployed to the Middle East and that a dispatch of F-15 fighters, which had been used in surveillance in the no-fly zones over Iraq, has been extended indefinitely.

Armed soldiers checked vehicles passing through the base gate. The warning alert level at the base stayed at the third level of a five-tier structure, unchanged from its prewar level.

At the U.S. naval base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, security was bolstered as personnel conducted strict inspections, particularly on vehicles entering and exiting the base.

Several U.S. soldiers in camouflage gear guarded the Sasebo base gate with dogs and inspected cars closely.

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