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ASIA TRIP

Japanese kidnappings shadow Cheney talks

TOKYO -- Vice President Dick Cheney was pledging US support to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in pressing ahead with plans to double Japan's noncombat forces in Iraq despite the furor over the abduction of three citizens, US officials said yesterday.

The kidnapping of the Japanese civilians by Iraqi militants cast a pall over Cheney's visit to Japan, his first stop on a weeklong Asia trip that also is taking him to China and South Korea.

Cheney attended Easter services with his wife, Lynne, at a nondenominational, English-speaking, Protestant church in Tokyo. After a stop at the US Embassy, Cheney planned to meet with Koizumi and other officials today, with the kidnappings expected to be discussed.

The captors originally said they would kill the three captives if Japan did not pull its forces out by yesterday.

Later, the kidnappers indicated they had decided to release their captives.

By early yesterday afternoon in Tokyo, a senior government official said there was still no word of their release.

Japan has refused to pull out its troops, but the nation is deeply divided on their presence in Iraq. Cheney was keeping in close touch with the White House and Bush administration officials, monitoring the developments in Iraq and elsewhere, spokesman Kevin Kellems said.

The vice president is asking Japan and South Korea, which both have troops in Iraq, to stay the course. Japan has about 530 ground troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, part of a total planned deployment of 1,100 soldiers for humanitarian and other reconstruction tasks.

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