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Government ministries agreed Friday to prepare for possible terrorist attacks and offer security information to the public as things continue to heat up in Iraq.

Senior officials of 17 ministries and agencies, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, met to discuss possible security and economic problems in the wake of the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The National Police Agency stepped up security at 650 key facilities, including 70 U.S. bases and 170 embassies. Police units armed with submachine guns are guarding nuclear power plants, the NPA said.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry cataloged stocks of medicinal supplies in preparation for a possible biological and chemical attacks, and is maintaining close contact with hospitals.

Government jets and chartered planes are ready to be dispatched to nations neighboring Iraq if Japanese nationals need to be evacuated.

The government said it will release oil stocks if there is a shortage. It has enough reserves to cover 171 days of regular consumption, and tankers carrying another 24 days worth of crude oil are on their way, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Bureau and customs offices will keep in contact with police to prevent terrorists and other suspicious individuals entering Japan.

Doctors off to Syria

The Associated Press

A team of doctors left Tokyo on Friday for Syria to help provide medical care for refugees expected to flee from the war in Iraq.

The five doctors will spend two weeks in a hospital in northeast Syria, about 40 km from the border with Iraq, the Japan International Cooperation Agency said.

About 8,000 refugees sought shelter at a camp on that part of the border during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, JICA said.

The dispatch is among the humanitarian measures announced Thursday by Japan in support of the U.S.-led campaign to disarm Iraq by force.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi supports the campaign, but Japan’s Constitution, which was drafted by the U.S. after World War II, prohibits his government from sending troops into combat.

Japan has also promised $5.03 million in aid to humanitarian organizations, including the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Program.

Journalists join fray

Staff report

Three Japanese photographers entered Iraq after U.S.-led military forces began their assault on the country, increasing the number of Japanese in Iraq to 30, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.

There are currently six members of nongovernmental organizations, 16 journalists and eight members of citizens’ groups and individuals in Iraq, the ministry said.

Seven, including two journalists, are registered as part of the worldwide movement to serve as human shields, it said.

The ministry confirmed the safety of 29 of the Japanese after the attacks started, except for a male who is registered as a human shield.

There are a further 86 Japanese nationals in Kuwait, 554 in Israel, 729 in Saudi Arabia, 107 in Bahrain, 156 in Qatar, 199 in Jordan, 1,400 in the United Arab Emirates, 495 in Iran, 219 in Syria and 1,118 in Turkey, according to the ministry.

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