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. Japan deploys own ballistic missile defences
TOKYO, March 30 (AFP) Mar 30, 2007
Japan on Friday deployed its first missile defence system in the Tokyo area one year ahead of schedule as its relations remain tense with nuclear-armed North Korea.

The United States last year installed Japan's first anti-missile system on the southern island of Okinawa, but the interceptors deployed Friday were the first installed by Japan on its own.

Two Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air interceptors were installed early Friday at the Iruma Air Self-Defence Force base in suburban Tokyo, a defence ministry spokesman said.

The ministry plans to deploy the US-developed PAC-3s, which can cover a 20-kilometre (12-mile) radius, at a total of 11 bases in eastern and western Japan by March 2011.

"We would like to go fully ahead with our plan," Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma told a news conference.

Kyuma also said his ministry would speed up deployment of a missile defence system on its Aegis warships to give Japan a two-phased anti-missile shield.

The ministry deployed the launchers, designed to protect the capital Tokyo, earlier than initially scheduled in response to North Korea's launch of missiles in July and its nuclear test in October.

"We had initially planned to complete the deployment by March next year, but we accelerated the plan following North Korea's missile launch," the defence ministry spokesman said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has built his career campaigning for a tough line against North Korea, particularly over its past kidnappings of Japanese civilians.

Jiji Press, quoting an unnamed source, said his government had decided to extend tough sanctions against North Korea when they expire in mid-April to keep the pressure on Pyongyang over the abductions.

The continued tough line would come despite an increasingly conciliatory approach by the United States, which has agreed to a six-way deal providing fuel aid in return for North Korea freezing its nuclear programme.

Japan has taken the hardest line at the six-way talks and has refused to fund the deal, saying it will not help North Korea until the kidnapping dispute is resolved.

Japan says the secretive Stalinist state abducted Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.

Abe has also championed a greater military role for Japan and is seeking to revise the pacifist constitution imposed by the United States in 1947. Due to the constitution, Japan calls its military the Self-Defence Forces.

Friday's deployment was the first by Japan's military of a missile interceptor since World War II.

The United States separately deployed its own Patriot anti-missile system last year in Okinawa, raising protests among some local leaders opposed to the US troops.

Japan and the United States started working on a more advanced missile shield after North Korea in 1998 fired a missile over Japan's main island.

Last week, the Japanese government approved emergency response guidelines that will allow the armed forces to fire interceptor missiles without the prime minister's prior approval.

The new guidelines will allow the defence minister to order the interception of incoming ballistic missiles.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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