Court says Japan's Iraq operation unconstitutional
(Recasts, adds lawyer for plaintiffs)
TOKYO, April 17 (Reuters) - A court said in a non-binding ruling on Thursday that Japan's dispatch of air force troops to Iraq was unconstitutional, but the government said it would press on with the military activity anyway.
Japan has about 210 air force personnel in Kuwait, from where they airlift supplies to the U.S.-led forces in Baghdad and other places in Iraq.
More than 1,100 people, including a former Japanese ambassador to Lebanon, had brought a suit demanding the suspension of the airlift, a spokesman for the Nagoya High Court said.
The court dismissed the case, saying it could not rule on the suspension of the dispatch, he said.
But, in explaining the ruling, it said that the dispatch violated Article Nine of Japan's 1947 constitution, which renounces war and forbids the use of force to settle international disputes, as well as a special law that enabled the country to send troops to Iraq while limiting their activities to non-combat regions, the spokesman added.
"As a framework, this is quite a groundbreaking ruling," Yoshikazu Uchikawa, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said.
He added that while the court's comments on the constitution were non-binding, the lawyers planned to work with lawmakers to pursue the issue in the parliament.
The defence ministry said it could not comment on the case until it checked the ruling.
But Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said that the government was not convinced by the High Court's decision.
"This will not influence the current activities of the air force in any way," he said. (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Isabel Reynolds)
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