Thousands gathered in Tokyo on Sunday to oppose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to expand the powers of Japan’s military amid a territorial dispute with China.
Amid light rain, protesters stood in front of the Diet building with placards reading “Reject the War Bill Now!” and “We’re Against War, Kill the Bill!” Yoko Goto, a retired 72- year-old who traveled from nearby Kawasaki City, said: “I hope today’s actions mark a sea change.”
One group of protesters had called on social media for 300,000 people to demonstrate outside parliament as Abe’s ruling coalition seeks to pass two bills by Sept. 27 that would allow Japan’s forces to fight to defend other countries. A Tokyo Metropolitan Police spokesman said there’s no plan to provide an estimate of the number of protesters at the rally. Around 120,000 people took part, the Kyodo News agency reported.
Domestic opposition to the legislation has undermined Abe’s voter support, with more people saying they disapprove than approve of his government in recent media surveys. A steep decline in stock prices has cast fresh doubt on the effectiveness of his economic policies. Nonetheless, a splintered opposition and a lack of alternative candidates means he is almost certain to be handed another three years as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in an internal leadership vote next month.
Under a pacifist constitution drafted by the US after World War II and unchanged for 68 years, Japan renounced the right to wage war, and what it calls its Self-Defense Forces have not killed a single person in battle since then. Abe’s legislation puts into practice his 2014 reinterpretation of the constitution, a change opponents fear could allow Japan to become entangled in US-led wars like those in Iraq and put the country in danger of terrorist attacks.
The proposed bills have been welcomed by the US, which wants support from its biggest Asian ally to help balance China’s growing assertiveness in the region. Other governments in Asia are also largely supportive, apart from China and South Korea, which are at loggerheads with Japan over territorial disputes and interpretations of history.
Parliament’s lower house has already passed the bills, which are now being debated in the less powerful upper house. If the upper house fails to pass them within 60 days, the lower house can enact them by passing them a second time, with a two thirds majority.
Massive public demonstrations against nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster failed to deter Japan from re- starting a reactor this month. Abe’s grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, a former prime minister, faced violent protests against the security treaty he agreed with the US in 1960, but the treaty was approved before he stepped down.
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