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5,000 turn out to assail Abe’s defense push

Kyodo, JIJI

Thousands of people gathered in central Tokyo on Tuesday to protest Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to lift Japan’s ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense.

An organizer said around 5,000 people gathered for a rally in Hibiya Park before marching toward the Diet. They shouted slogans including “Don’t destroy Article 9″ and “No war.” Article 9 of the Constitution is widely seen as renouncing war and was introduced as Japan recovered from World War II.

“If its interpretation is altered, it will no longer be the Japanese Constitution,” Kayoko Ikeda, a translator, told the gathering.

“If you want to make Japan a country capable of waging war, you should call elections, accept the people’s mandate and revise the constitution,” said former SDF member Takao Izutsu.

Abe hopes to remove Japan’s long-standing ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense before the U.S. and Japan move to revise joint defense cooperation guidelines later this year. But his Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito remain at odds over the issue.

New Komeito’s support base, the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, opposes the LDP’s push for collective self-defense.

Other participants also denounced Abe’s plans, with some expressing the hope that New Komeito would prevent Abe from seeing the proposals through.

Miyoko Kimura, a 59-year-old Tokyo resident who took part in the rally, said Abe’s move does not sufficiently reflect public sentiment and that his plan to use a Cabinet decision as a basis for reinterpreting the Constitution and not an amendment is an “expedient.” She, too, expressed hope that New Komeito would oppose the change.