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Mass protests in Tokyo against controversial military bills

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in front of Japanese parliament to protest against security bills they believe to be unconstitutional. The proposed legislation would allow Japanese soldiers to fight overseas.

The demonstrators were chanting "No to war legislation" and calling on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to quit, at the large rally in downtown Tokyo on Sunday.

"Sitting in front of TV and just complaining wouldn't do," said Naoko Hiramatsu, a 44-year-old professor of French.

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

While the organizers estimated that some 120,000 people took part in the Sunday protests, the police provided a far lower figure of 30,000.

Against the grain

The rally was held in response to a legal initiative pushed by

Abe's government

. The military bills would allow Japanese soldiers to engage in overseas combat to protect Japanese interests.

However, many scholars say the initiative clashes with the Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes.

Officially, Japan does not have an army, and its troops are known only as the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

"For 70 years, thanks to Article 9 of our constitution, Japan has not engaged in war or been touched by any aggression. Article 9 is our foundation," said demonstrator Masako Suzuki.

Tension in the region

Although the anti-war constitution was imposed by the US after World War II, many Japanese have grown attached to the country's pacifist position. The majority of people oppose the new military bills, surveys show.

Obama's administration has welcomed Abe's initiative, which the Japanese government explains by

safety concerns from North Korea and China

.

The bills cleared the lower house of parliament last month and are now being debated in the upper house. The lawmakers are expected to make their final decision in September.

dj/sgb (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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