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Government officials are considering seeking an extension of the special antiterrorism law for another year so Japan can continue to refuel U.S. and other nations’ ships in the Indian Ocean involved in military operations in Afghanistan, sources said Sunday.

The successor to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, to be elected in a special Diet session after the Sept. 20 Liberal Democratic Party presidential election, is likely to endorse the extension plan and try to gain parliamentary approval sometime in October, the sources said.

The current law expires Nov. 1.

The special law, enacted in October 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, was designed to expire in two years.

It was extended for two years in October 2003 and again for another year last October.

The government is considering having the Maritime Self-Defense Force continue to provide refueling support for foreign vessels as the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan is expected to continue for some time, the sources said.

Taliban militants are stepping up attacks in southern Afghanistan.

Last Tuesday, Peter Rodman, U.S. assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, made a request for extension of the law during a meeting with Taku Yamasaki, a former vice president of the ruling party.

The fuel-supplying operation is a convenient tool for Tokyo to earn international credit because it involves no risk of being attacked, unlike the humanitarian mission in Iraq performed by ground troops.

Some ruling LDP lawmakers have long complained about the refueling operation, saying it’s a waste of public money without visible results at home.

“I wonder how long the government will keep this free gas station open,” one LDP lawmaker said.

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