Student group stages hunger strike over Abe's security Bills

Mr Aki Okuda (with microphone), founding member of the protest group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, leading a protest outside Parliament in Tokyo last week. Japan has not seen significant student protests since the 1960s and the gro
Mr Aki Okuda (with microphone), founding member of the protest group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, leading a protest outside Parliament in Tokyo last week. Japan has not seen significant student protests since the 1960s and the group is changing the image of Japan's students as either apolitical introverts or right-wing geeks.PHOTO: REUTERS

Four undergrads seeking to prevent rules that critics fear may pave way to war

TOKYO • A group of Tokyo university students has staged a rare hunger strike in front of Japan's Parliament in a protest against security Bills that critics fear would drag the country into foreign wars.

Four male students began their hunger strike on Thursday afternoon in front of the Diet building, saying a "direct and tough approach" was required to block the Bills, which are being hotly debated in Parliament.

The group, who spent Thursday night on the street in the Nagatacho political district, said they would hold off food until they reached their "physical limit".

"I thought I should express my opposition to these Bills more directly," said Mr Shotaro Kimoto, 19, one of the group members and a student at Waseda University. "If parliamentary debate stops, then we have achieved our goal."

The move highlights growing opposition to legislation backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe days after Japan's national bar association joined the effort to prevent the constitutionally pacifist nation from enacting changes that could see Japan troops engage in combat for the first time since World War II.

Under the proposed new rules, Japan's Self-Defence Forces would have the option of going into battle to protect allies even if there was no direct threat to Japan.

Mr Abe and his supporters say they are necessary for Japan to deal with the security environment, and want them to clear Parliament during the current session, which ends late next month.

But opponents say they will drag Japan into distant wars and the legislation is deeply unpopular among the public.

The Bills cleared the Lower House last month.

"We were appalled and furious that the Bills were rammed through the Lower House despite strong opposition," said Mr Motoya Tsuchida, a 19-year-old law student at Keio University, a supporter of the hunger strikers.

While small street demonstrations are carried out frequently in Tokyo, hunger strikes are rare.

Japan has not seen significant student protests since the 1960s, and civic demonstrations since then have been peopled primarily with greying left-wing activists.

That changed when Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (Sealds), a group of students that has become a fresh face of protest against Mr Abe's defence push, sprang to public notice by sponsoring weekly rallies near Parliament against the Bills. The group is also changing the image of Japan's students as either apolitical introverts or right-wing geeks.

Said Sealds founding member Aki Okuda, 23: "If one government can change things just with their interpretation, then the Constitution itself is altered and the government can do whatever it wants."

Formed in December 2013, Sealds now has nearly 400 members who shun violence. Its manifesto urges respect for the Constitution, a robust social safety net and peaceful security policies - concepts that opinion polls suggest resonate with many.

Sealds is cooperating with about a dozen civic activist groups in organising a protest rally on Sunday that sponsors hope will attract 100,000 people. "They are galvanising other age groups," said Dr Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Mr Kazuto Nakayama, 68, who attended a recent protest, said it was time for "older folks" to pass the baton. "We cannot change Japan without the power of youth," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Student group stages hunger strike over Abe's security Bills'. Print Edition | Subscribe