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JAPANESE fighter jet mistakenly fires on passenger car, garage

TOKYO (AP) _ A Japanese fighter jet conducting training on the northern island of Hokkaido mistakenly strafed a parking lot Monday, smashing the rear window of a passenger car and penetrating the roof of a garage.

There were no injuries, police spokesman Akihiro Ishikawa said. But the Defense Ministry issued an apology and suspended all Air Self-Defense Force training involving shooting.

``This sort of incident should never happen. I would like to apologize,'' said Vice Defense Minister Ken Sato, who bowed deeply before reporters. ``This is unbelievable.''

The ministry also sent investigators to Hokkaido and has begun questioning the fighter pilot, said ministry spokesman Tateki Kaiwa.

The accident comes as Japan debates changing its pacifist constitution to allow it a more proactive security role in international conflicts. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is a vocal backer of the reform.

The F-4 fighter jet was conducting an air-to-ground firing drills when the 20-mm practice rounds went off inadvertently while the plane was in the air, said Air Self-Defense Force spokeswoman Tomoko Tanaka.

The rounds shattered the rear window of a car parked at a drug addiction rehabilitation center near the firing range. The roof of the minibus garage at the center had a hole in it, Ishikawa said.

Bullet traces were also found at a golf course near the training grounds, Kyodo News Agency reported. Ministry spokesman Kaiwa said it was possible the rounds hit one of the six golf courses that surround the training site, but could not confirm the report.

The Defense Ministry said 200 rounds were fired, though only 18 had been recovered.

``We were so fortunate it happened just before lunch time when almost everyone was inside the building,'' Takahiro Fukura of the rehabilitation center told Japanese television.

The firing range in Shimamatsu is one of two in Japan and is about 490 miles northeast of Tokyo.
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