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Japan to Vote on Modifying Pacifist Charter Written by US

The Japanese Parliament passed a bill on Monday calling for a national referendum on amendments to the country's pacifist constitution.

The government will be able to hold the referendum as early as 2010, but experts say it may take far longer than three years to persuade voters and opposition lawmakers to back constitutional change. Polls show that Japanese remain split, especially on the constitution's Article 9, which renounces war and forbids Japan to have a full-fledged military.

But Parliament's action was an important preliminary step toward rewriting the American-imposed constitution, a goal long cherished by the governing Liberal Democratic Party and one that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has deemed central to what he calls shedding Japan's "postwar regime."

Any amendments would have to be approved by two-thirds of both houses of Parliament and by a majority of voters in a national referendum. The Liberal Democrats would effectively need the approval of opposition parties, which largely want to maintain the current constitution or have their own plans for revisions.

"The law will be implemented three years hence, and until then it is important to debate broadly and deeply in a calm environment," Abe told reporters.

No. 2 at Justice Dept. Quits In U.S. Attorney Flap

Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general whose congressional testimony in February provided a spark that turned the firing of federal prosecutors into a political inferno, announced his resignation on Monday.

McNulty, the fourth and highest-ranking Justice Department official to resign since the uproar began in Congress over the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys, had told friends for weeks that he was planning to step aside.

In a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, McNulty said he would remain at the Justice Department until late summer, adding "The financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career."

The departure of another senior aide at the Justice Department appeared to leave the attorney general in a somewhat more isolated position. But with President Bush's support, Gonzales has so far fended off demands by Democrats and some Republicans who have called on him to resign.

McNulty, 49, will leave after spending more than two decades in a variety of positions at the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill. He was a U.S. attorney in Virginia before taking the deputy's job in November 2005.

St. Louis Builds on Flood Plains, Putting Faith in Levees

Miles and miles of bigger and stronger levees have been built along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers since the deadly floods of 1993, and millions of dollars have been spent on drainage improvements.

Yet as the rush of water that caused the Missouri River to overflow its banks and submerge dozens of towns last week rolled toward St. Louis on Monday, attention was turned to a metropolitan region that since 1993 has seen runaway residential and commercial development in the rivers' flood paths.

About 28,000 homes have been built and more than 6,000 acres of commercial and industrial space developed on land that was underwater in 1993, according to research by Nicholas Pinter, a geologist who studies the region at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Building is happening on flood plains across Missouri, but most of the development is in the St. Louis area, and it is estimated to be worth more than $2.2 billion. Though scientists warn about the danger of such building, the Missouri government has subsidized some of it through tax financing for builders.

"No one has really looked at the cumulative effect," said Timothy M. Kusky, a professor of natural sciences at St. Louis University, who calculates that there has been more development on the Missouri River flood plain in the years since 1993 than at any other time in the history of the region.

Official of Pakistani Supreme Court Shot and Killed

A senior official of Pakistan's Supreme Court was shot and killed by unidentified gunman early Monday, following political clashes in Karachi on Sunday that claimed 39 lives.

Syed Hammad Raza, a registrar of the Supreme Court, was killed at around 4:30 a.m. local time at his home here in the capital. Raza was close to Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, who was removed from the bench in March by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, touching off protests and political violence.

Shops were closed and public transportation was shut down in all the country's major cities, including Karachi, Monday after opposition parties called a general strike and the authorities responded by banning demonstrations and declaring a public holiday, Reuters reported. It was the first time since Musharraf took power that a strike call had been so widely observed.

After the clashes in Karachi on Sunday, analysts said that the violence — and accusations that the government had done little to stop the killings — had put renewed pressure on Musharraf.

News reports said that government troops were in Karachi but took no action to separate armed pro-government groups and opposition groups, who were shooting at one another. Dawn, an English-language newspaper in Karachi, said that troops "suddenly disappeared from the troubled spots."

The government has not responded to those claims.