July 1, 2014 9:40 pm JST

10,000 protest in Tokyo over enhanced role for Japan's armed forces

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Some 10,000 protesters gathered Tuesday near the prime minister's office in Tokyo to oppose the government's plan to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution and ease limitations governing the role of Japan's armed forces.

     During the day, the group repeatedly chanted, "Listen to the voices of the people" and "Do not destroy Article 9 of the Constitution."

     The group expressed anger after the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved the change to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense despite some criticism from the public, with protesters arguing that the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution would be gutted.

     When the news about the Cabinet approval broke at about 5:25 p.m., the group shouted, "Abe must resign." Then the crowd applauded when someone said, "We will not let him do what he wants at an extraordinary Diet session in fall" when the government is seeking to revise relevant laws to enable Japan to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces overseas under the name of collective self-defense.

     Naoto Sakura, a 23-year-old university student from Higashimurayama in Tokyo, participated in the demonstration for two consecutive days.

     "It's us and younger people who would go to war," he said. "Why does the government not listen to voices of the young generation?"

     "I feel frustrated and empty" by the Cabinet decision, he said. "I'll continue to act so the decision would be retracted."

     Self-employed Hiroko Okada, 28, came from Minamiyamashiro, Kyoto Prefecture, in western Japan, with her 3-year-old son. "I feel the situation is critical and that this could be the turning point that enables the country to engage in war," she said before the reinterpretation was approved by the Cabinet.

     "Adults have a responsibility to make the right decision so children will not suffer in the future. It's absolutely wrong to decide something so important only through a Cabinet decision," Okada added.

     Another university student, Ikuya Sugisato from Nishitokyo in Tokyo, criticized the government, saying, "Changing the interpretation of the Constitution by Cabinet approval isn't the act of a law-abiding country," adding that any revision should instead be subject to a referendum.

     "I don't think this decision is right. I think Japan will be taken advantage of by the United States in wartime," the 22-year-old Sugisato said.

     The demonstration was held after rallying calls by a coalition of citizens' groups and labor unions, as well as one by constitutional scholars and writers.

     Residents of Okinawa Prefecture, which houses 74 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan, also expressed opposition to the Cabinet decision and voiced fear the island prefecture may become the target of attacks if a war occurs.

     "I cannot accept the extended interpretation of the Constitution," said 65-year-old Taiko Sato, who continues a sit-in protest against the replacement of a controversial U.S. military base within the prefecture.

     "As there are many U.S. military bases in Okinawa, they may become targets in a war," she said.

     A demonstration was also held in Hiroshima by people including survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings.

     "What saves the people is not war, but peace," said Sunao Tsuboi, director of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations. "Reinterpretation of the Constitution is deception."

     Former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who organized the gathering, said, "Allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense means the country is stepping toward waging war, killing people and getting our people killed."