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JAPANESE PANEL OKS TROOPS BILL

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Measure would let soldiers be sent overseas for 1st time since WWII.Turning aside opposition demands for more debate, a parliamentary committee rammed through a bill Thursday that would allow Japan to send troops overseas for the first time since World War II.

It was the latest step in a monthslong battle over the bill, which would allow Japan's Self-Defense Forces to participate in international peacekeeping missions.The bill was to be presented for discussion Friday to the full lower house, where the governing Liberal Democrats hold a commanding majority. If it passed, as seemed inevitable, it would need only the formality of Cabinet approval to become law.

The legislation is Japan's response to criticism for not contributing personnel to the effort to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf war.

Critics say the bill violates Japan's postwar constitution, which renounces the use of force in settling international disputes.

The independent newspaper Asahi criticized rushing the bill through the lower house in only a few days after much longer discussions in the upper house. The bill's supporters "have failed to maintain the spirit of dialogue that is the basis of parliamentary politics," the paper said in an editorial in its Friday editions.

Opposition lawmakers crowded around committee chairman Yoshiro Hayashi, shouting and waving signs reading "Continue the Questioning," after he called an end to debate and prepared to call a vote. Some pounded on their desks.

"This is embarrassing," Hayashi said. "Please return to your seats."

Socialists and other opposition lawmakers refused to sit down, then stalked out of the room after the vote.

After they left, committee members of the governing Liberal Democratic Party raised their fists in the traditional "banzai" cheer, which often is associated with Japanese militarism.

The possibility of a resurgence of that militarism has aroused concern by many Japanese as well as neighboring countries that suffered under Japanese occupation during World War II.

In Seoul, South Korea, dissidents struck the car of the Japanese ambassador with wood placards demanding nullification of the bill.

And in China, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry urged Japan to be "prudent" in sending troops abroad. He refused to specify what Beijing meant by "prudent."

Japan's prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, has made passage of the bill a main goal of his tenure.