Tens of thousands protest over military bills outside Japan Diet
Tens of thousands rallied outside Japan’s parliament Sunday to protest against planned new laws that could see troops in the officially pacifist nation engage in combat for the first time since World War II.
A growing number of people, including university students and young parents, have joined a swelling opposition against the controversial bills as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party gears up to pass them before the current session ends late next month.
Holding placards reading “No war,” “Peace not war” and “Stop the security bills,” chanting demonstrators filled the street in front of the Diet building in downtown Tokyo despite drizzly weather.
A huge banner reading “Abe should step down,” adorned with black and white balloons, was carried through the crowd.
“I cannot stand idly by when I think of the excesses of the Abe government — Japan could become a country capable of going to war again,” said protester Kenichi Ozawa.
Under the planned changes the military — known as the Self-Defense Forces — would be allowed to fight to protect allies such as the United States even if there was no direct threat to Japan or its people.
Under a U.S.-imposed constitution following WWII, Japan’s military has been limited strictly to self-defense.
While the restrictions were ushered in by an occupying force, many Japanese have become strongly attached to their country’s pacifism over the decades — outlined in Article Nine of the constitution — and they fear any change to that status will lead them down a dangerous road.
“For 70 years, thanks to Article Nine of our constitution, Japan has not engaged in war or been touched by any aggression. Article nine is our foundation,” said demonstrator Masako Suzuki.
In the central city of Nagoya, home to automaker Toyota, a group of mothers staged a rally near the main train station as they shouted “protect our children!”
Organizers said about 120,000 people took part in the rally in Tokyo, but police put the figure at 30,000. Similar demonstrations were held across Japan.
Abe and his supporters say the bills are necessary for Japan to deal with a changed security environment in the face of a rising China and unpredictable North Korea.
Washington has welcomed the move to change what some see as a one-sided security alliance that compels the U.S. to protect Japan if it were attacked.
But opponents say the reforms will drag Japan into distant American wars, and many legal scholars have said they are unconstitutional.
The legislation is deeply unpopular among the general public and support for Abe’s government is declining.
Among the protesters Sunday were popular Japanese musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and opposition party leaders including Katsuya Okada, head of the Democratic Party of Japan.
Relatively small street demonstrations are frequent in the capital. But on Thursday a group of Tokyo university students staged a rare hunger strike outside parliament to protest at the legislation.
They said they would continue as long as possible.
On Wednesday the national bar association took part in a Tokyo protest rally with academics and citizen groups.
The controversial bills cleared the powerful lower house last month and are now being hotly debated in the upper house.
Protesters hold anti-war placards in front of the National Diet building during a rally in Tokyo, Sunday, Aug. 30.