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Japan legislative committee approves security bills
Associated Press - September 17, 2015
Opposition lawmakers surged toward the chairman's seat to protest the vote as ruling party legislators tried to protect him. One lawmaker repeatedly clambered on top of the scrum.
A senior opposition leader later said they would not accept the vote, which happened without them knowing.
If the vote stands, the legislation will go to the upper house of parliament for final approval. The bills would increase the military's influence, a highly sensitive issue in a country where many take pride in the pacifist constitution.
The legislative standoff is the latest development in a yearslong national debate about the way Japan uses its military. It has been a central question for the country since its armed forces were defeated in World War II seven decades ago.
Before the vote, opposition lawmakers introduced a no-confidence motion against the committee chairman, who earlier had tried to force the meeting to start.
The motion was the latest delaying tactic by opposition lawmakers who are trying to scrap the ruling party bills, which would allow the military to defend Japan's allies even when the country isn't under attack, work more closely with the US and other allies, and do more in international peacekeeping.
Despite the delays, the bills are likely to be passed eventually because Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc has a majority in the upper house.
Abe says Japan needs the bills to bolster its defense amid China's growing assertiveness and to share global peacekeeping efforts. Opponents say the legislation violates Japan's war-renouncing constitution, while putting Japan at risk of being embroiled in US-led wars.
The ruling party's hope that final approval by the full upper house would take place later Thursday appeared increasingly difficult as the opposition plans to propose a series of no-confidence votes against Abe's Cabinet and its key members – a process likely to take more than half a day – before a house vote can take place.
Those no-confidence motions, however, are purely symbolic and meant to be delaying tactics. They would have no impact on the stability of Abe's government.
As the drama was playing out in parliament, a few hundred protesters continued to rally outside the building under a steady rain, after a bigger demonstration by thousands the previous night.
The protesters shouted "Scrap the bills right now" and "No to war bills," while flashing placards with anti-Abe and anti-war messages.
Over the past few months, new faces have joined the ranks of protesters, typically made up of labor union members and graying left-wing activists.
A group of students has emerged as leaders of the protests, which have grown to tens of thousands who fill the streets outside parliament every Friday and often on weekends.
"Anyone who understands the basic principle of the constitution cannot help but oppose the legislation," Aki Okuda, a leader of the group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracies, told reporters. "It's ridiculous, and the bills' legal questions have fueled the people's anger."
The bills, passed by the more powerful lower house in July, have since been debated in the upper house. Abe's ruling party wants them approved by Friday to avoid a swelling of protests during an upcoming five-day weekend. Abe also promised the US that the bills would pass in parliament by this summer.
Media surveys have consistently showed a majority of respondents oppose the legislation. One released Monday by the liberal-leaning Asahi newspaper showed 54 percent opposed the bills, compared to 29 percent supporting them.
Opposition lawmakers, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, prevented colleagues from entering a designated upper house chamber all night Wednesday. They filled the hallway outside the room, blocking the chairman and holding up a preliminary question-and-answer session.
Katsuya Okada, head of the party, said it was "outrageous" for Abe's ruling block to rush a vote on legislation that has split the nation. "We must join our forces and block their ploy," he said.