Tokyo: Controversial security bills that opponents say will undermine 70 years of pacifism in Japan were set to go before lawmakers Thursday, the day after tens of thousands poured onto the streets in protest.
Organisers said 60,000 people took part in a rally outside parliament on Wednesday, after the bills -- which will beef up the role of Japan`s military -- were pushed through a key lower house panel.
There were scuffles as riot police pushed angry protestors back, and two men in their 60s were arrested on suspicion of assaulting officers, local media said.
Demonstrations in Japan are usually small and very orderly, but plans by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to loosen the shackles on the country`s highly-restrained military have energised opposition across a wide swathe of the population.
The bills -- a hotchpotch of updates to existing provisions that will allow, amongst other things, Japan`s military to fight in defence of allies -- go before the full lower house on Thursday afternoon.
Abe`s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner dominate the chamber, all but guaranteeing their successful passage. They will then go to the upper house.
The prime minister, a robust nationalist, is pushing for what he calls a normalisation of Japan`s military posture, which has been constrained by a constitution imposed by US occupiers after World War II.
Unable to muster support to amend clauses enshrining pacifism, Abe opted instead to re-interpret the document for the purpose of his bills, ignoring warnings from scholars and lawyers that his bills are unconstitutional.He appears set to press ahead with the legislation, despite the growing political cost -- opinion polls show the vast majority of the public is against the plan, and Abe`s approval rating is dropping.
There were chaotic scenes in a parliamentary committee room Wednesday as opposition lawmakers thronged the floor in an unsuccessful bid to block the bills.
Dozens of politicians held signs protesting against what they said was the "forced" passage of legislation, in a way they say is anathema to the country`s pacifist constitution.
Lawmakers chanted "nay, nay, nay" and held posters saying "No to Abe politics", and "No to a forced decision", as their LDP colleagues pressed on with the vote, which they won comfortably.
Chief among the changes that the legislation will enable is the option for the military to go into battle to protect allies -- so called "collective defence" -- even if there is no direct threat to Japan or its people, something successive governments have ruled out.
Protesters, which include a large number of middle-aged and elderly people, say that provision will mean Japan gets dragged into American wars in far flung parts of the globe.
But supporters say the bar for involvement in any conflict will remain much higher than for many other nations.
They say the proposed legislation is needed to take account of the shifting security environment in Asia, where North Korea remains as volatile and unpredictable as ever, and China is perceived to be throwing its weight around.