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Japan ship steams towards West Asia

Yokosuka (Japan), Dec. 16 (Reuters): A Japanese warship equipped with a high-tech Aegis missile detection system left for the Indian Ocean today, a controversial move some analysts say signals support for a possible US-led attack on Iraq.

Riot police lined the shore and a crowd of about 100 cheered and waved Japanese flags as the 7,250-tonne destroyer Kirishima left its home base at Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo.

“We will display the results of our daily training, carry through the mission we are given and will all return in good health,” the ship’s captain, Shiro Yoshimura, said in a pre-departure ceremony.

An equal number of demonstrators rallied to oppose the dispatch, which domestic critics say could violate Japan’s pacifist constitution and its self-imposed ban on “collective self-defence”, or aiding allies when they are attacked.

Some demonstrators also launched small boats in a futile attempt to block the destroyer's departure. The destroyer, with a crew of about 250, is scheduled to arrive in the Indian Ocean in about three weeks.

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