Thousands rally in Tokyo against Abe's security Bills

Demonstrators protesting against the controversial security Bills outside the Parliament in Tokyo yesterday. The rally was one of more than 300 held across Japan over the weekend.
Demonstrators protesting against the controversial security Bills outside the Parliament in Tokyo yesterday. The rally was one of more than 300 held across Japan over the weekend.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

TOKYO • Tens of thousands rallied outside Japan's Parliament 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.

In one of Japan's biggest protests in years - the organisers estimated yesterday's crowd at 120,000 participants but police put the figure at 30,000 - people braved occasional rain to join the rally, chanting and holding up placards with slogans such as "No war" and "Abe, quit".

A growing number of people, including university students and young parents, have joined the swelling opposition against the controversial security Bills as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party gears up to pass them before the current session ends late next month.

Demonstrators swarmed into the street before Parliament's main gate after the crowd size made it impossible for the police, out in large numbers, to keep them to the pavements.

The rally was one of more than 300 held over the weekend across Japan to protest against Mr Abe's move to loosen the post-war, pacifist Constitution's constraints on the military.

The demonstration was the biggest in Tokyo since the mass protests against nuclear power in the summer of 2012, after the March 2011 Fukushima atomic disaster.

"For 70 years, thanks to Article Nine of our Constitution, Japan has not engaged in war or been touched by any aggression," said demonstrator Masako Suzuki.

"Sitting in front of the television and just complaining wouldn't do," said Ms Naoko Hiramatsu, a 44-year-old associate professor in French and one of the Tokyo protesters.

"If I don't take action and try to put a stop to this, I will not be able to explain myself to my child in the future," she said, holding her four-year-old son in her arms in the thick of the protest.

Mr Abe last month pushed through Parliament's Lower House a group of Bills that let Japan's military - known as the Self-Defence Forces - defend an ally under attack, a drastic shift in Japan's post-war security policy.

The Bills are now before the Upper Chamber, which is also controlled by Mr Abe's ruling bloc and aims to pass the legislation before Parliament's session ends on Sept 27.

Mr Abe's ratings have taken a hit from opposition to the security Bills. Media surveys show those who oppose his government outnumber the backers, and more than half are against the Bills.

Among the protesters yesterday were popular Japanese musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and opposition party leaders including Mr Katsuya Okada, head of the Democratic Party of Japan.

The demonstration was the biggest in Tokyo since the mass protests against nuclear power in the summer of 2012, after the March 2011 Fukushima atomic disaster.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Thousands rally in Tokyo against Abe's security Bills'. Print Edition | Subscribe