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Feature: Virtual war assails Japan

TOKYO, March 22 (UPI) -- The latest round of action against Iraq has introduced the Japanese to a living room war in similar fashion as the 1991 Gulf War came home to Americans -- Japanese TV channels are now running seemingly endless real-time scenes of Baghdad, with live reports from Kuwait, Jordan and around Iraq. The difference is the Japanese are very uncomfortable about the U.S.-led war, and such broadcasts aren't helping.

Among national network channels, the semi-official Japanese Broadcasting Corp. station is devoting almost its entire airtime to reporting on the war developments since the first bombing upon Baghdad on Thursday. NHK, as the station is known in Japanese, is so concentrating on war reports that even its exclusive and popular coverage of Sumo tournament has been bumped to another channel. Suddenly Japanese viewers, who used to have difficulty in differentiating Iraq from Iran, are bombarded with detailed expert information on Iraq, Saddam Hussein, Middle East history, American high-tech weapons and military strategy.

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A few ambitious Japanese journalists are in the region and have conveyed live reports back home with a mix of agitation and resolve. One woman reporter, garbed in full combat protection and leaning against a blowing sandstorm, described shelling operations by an American division along the Kuwait-Iraq border. And in spite the urgings of Japan's Embassy in the Jordanian capital Amman, several Japanese journalists have also remained inside Iraq and are reporting bombardments live, apparently out of their hotel rooms in Baghdad.

CNN is pouring into Japanese homes as well, relayed live via Japanese private television networks. Unlike Americans whose majority supports the war, such vivid coverage seems to be strengthening Japanese aversion to the war.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, mindful of criticism that he had not explained his government's support for the U.S.-led operation, held a nationally televised press conference to discuss his reasons. Later he asked both Houses of Parliament to convene, then addressed the deputies and answered their questions in separate sessions until late into the night.

Nevertheless, Friday witnessed the largest anti-war demonstrations in some cities since the beginning of this war, most notably in one of Tokyo's public parks. Some 10,000 people assembled to voice their concerns about the war and their government's support.

Japan is a key ally of the United States in East Asia, and Tokyo is reluctant to jeopardize its strategic relationship in the face of nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea broke the seals on a mothballed nuclear facility in December and is restarting a reactor that can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

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