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Abe says 'time has come' for constitutional change

Japanese leader pushes to legitimize the Self-Defense Forces

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tells a rally in favor of revising Japan's constitution that the "the time has come at last."

TOKYO -- The time to rally for changing Japan's pacifist constitution is now, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a group of  supporters on Thursday, Japan's Constitution Memorial Day, ramping up what could be a tough fight for public support of an eventual amendment.

Amending the charter is a long-held ambition of Abe's. "Over the past year, discussion of revisions has grown much livelier and more specific," he said in a video message to a group pushing for constitutional change. The goal is to bring a revised charter into force by 2020, according to the prime minister.

In particular, Abe aims to enshrine Japan's Self-Defense Forces in Article 9, the section of the charter renouncing war. The document currently includes "absolutely no provision for our self-defense," Abe said.

"We must put an end to debate over [the SDF's] constitutionality," the prime minister said. That alone "is reason enough to amend the constitution."

Explicit authorization for the SDF is one of four changes Abe's Liberal Democratic Party proposed in March. The others touch on electoral reform, expanded education and greater emergency powers for the government.

Lawmakers must now "build a broad consensus" in support of the changes and obtain the "understanding of the people," Abe said. Once approved by the Diet, any amendment must clear a national referendum, giving voters the final say, he noted.

Opposition leaders on Thursday attended a rally against any changes to Article 9. A government that "tramples on the constitution" is one which does not comprehend the source of its power, said Yukio Edano, head of the center-left Constitutional Democratic Party. He asserted after the rally that changing the pacifist clause would "clearly give the SDF the power to wage war on the other side of the globe."

"Democracy cannot be safeguarded under the Abe government," warned Kohei Otsuka, president of the Democratic Party. "Japanese democracy is at the point of crisis."

"Let us put an end to both the Abe government and their schemes to change Article 9," said Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii, calling on the public to unite with the opposition.

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