By Isabel Reynolds

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TOKYO, Oct 1 (Reuters) New Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda today vowed to defend support for US-led military operations in Afghanistan in a row that tormented his predecessor, who stepped down and was hospitalised last month.

In his first policy speech to parliament since taking office last week following the abrupt resignation of Shinzo Abe, the moderate 71-year-old Fukuda acknowledged the difficulties, but pledged to rebuild public faith in politics and in the pensions system.

''The mission has been highly praised by the United Nations and the international commnity and we have had specific requests from various countries that we continue,'' Fukuda said of Japan's Indian Ocean refuelling mission in an advance copy of the speech.

''I will do everything in my power to explain to the people the necessity of continuing this mission and endeavour to gain their understanding,'' he added.

Fukuda's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) wants to extend beyond a November 1 expiry date the naval mission backing up a coalition of nations policing waters in the area.

But the main opposition Democratic party and its smaller allies are determined to vote the plan down in the upper house.

An election rout for Abe in July handed them the majority in the less powerful chamber, enabling them to delay legislation.

Fukuda has already said it is too late to extend the existing bill authorising the mission and says he wants to discuss future legislation with the Democrats, but the opposition has shown no sign of willingness to compromise on a new bill planned by the LDP.

Closer to home, a lack of public trust in everything from politics to the public pensions system needs to be tackled urgently, Fukuda said.

Revelations of pilfering and botched book-keeping by bureaucrats in charge of the public pension system added to anger over financial scandals in Abe's cabinet.

''It is impossible to implement policies or necessary reforms without the trust of the people,'' Fukuda said, pledging to make political funding more transparent and to ensure that bureaucrats maintain a high moral standard.

''It is important that each individual's pension records should be checked to make sure they are receiving the correct payments,'' he added. ''By reviewing the system and management I will tackle and resolve all the problems relating to the pensions system.'' REUTERS SYU HT1015

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