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Groups for and against a revision of the Constitution held rallies Friday in Tokyo to mark the 55th anniversary of the supreme charter.

The rallies were held amid increasing calls for a revision of the war-renouncing document from inside and outside the nation’s political circle.

Political leaders and citizens hoping to keep the Constitution intact shared concerns over a government-submitted set of bills designed to give the national government controlling power in case of foreign military attacks.

“Should the contingency bills be enacted, the current Constitution would effectively be forced to vanish,” Social Democratic Party leader Takako Doi said at a gathering at Hibiya Kokaido hall.

Doi, a constitutional scholar, stressed the historical significance of Article 9, which prevents the nation from using armed forces to settle international conflicts.

She warned against moves among conservative leaders to revise the Constitution, saying the ideals behind Article 9 are appreciated internationally and are spreading to the rest of the world.

A few thousand people packed the hall in Chiyoda Ward — with hundreds more sitting outside — as part of the pro-Constitution gathering, which was jointly organized by various citizens’ groups and labor unions.

Japanese Communists Party leader Kazuo Shii told the audience the bills are “explicit war legislation that would allow Japan to participate in war with the United States once the U.S. starts military interventions.”

Shii insisted there is no country which has the intention or capability to attack Japan at this time.

“The United States is still killing citizens of Afghanistan at this moment and we are having the Maritime Self-Defense Force deployed to support them,” Shii said, adding that the Japanese public should remember the nation has already been engaged in war despite the war-renouncing Constitution.

The government and the ruling coalition plan to start deliberations on the contingency bills next week. The bills which would give more power to the prime minister and the Cabinet, and facilitate operations of the Self-Defense Forces in the event they determine a foreign attack is taking place or being prepared. Such legislation had been long studied by the government but was never worked out into bills before the Koizumi administration, because of possible conflicts with the Constitution’s war-renouncing clause and guarantee of individual rights.

Organizing members and guest speakers also called for more efforts to protect the ideal of the Constitution, especially focusing on Article 9.

Carlos Vargas, an expert on international law from Costa Rica — which renounced its military in 1948 — received a large round of applause from the audience when he said that people of his country are not afraid of foreign attack even though they have no military force. He said people there also believe international disputes can be solved through negotiation.

Author Makoto Oda said the view that it is impossible to eliminate wars from the globe has prevailed, especially following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Meanwhile, about 1,500 people calling for the revision of the Constitution gathered at a forum in Chiyoda Ward.

Shumon Miura, a writer and former head of the Culture Agency, said that the Constitution should change in accordance with drastic changes in Japanese society.

The Citizen’s Council on the Constitution, the organizer of the gathering, was established Nov. 3 by a group of lawmakers, business leaders and academics to boost public debate on the Constitution.

The group also aims at drafting an alternative Constitution to submit to Diet panels to look into the issue.

Speeches were delivered to the gathering by four members, including Atsuyuki Sassa, a former director of the Cabinet Security Affairs Office and Setsuzo Kosaka, who heads the committee of constitutional debate at the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai).

From a crisis-management point of view, Sassa described contradictions within the Constitution that have caused trouble regarding the country’s peacekeeping operations overseas.

Kosaka stressed the need for an amendment from a business leader’s point of view.

“When Keizai Doyukai conducted a survey of its members, 98 percent of the 434 respondents supported constitutional revisions,” he said, adding that it doesn’t mean they are in favor of war. “On the contrary, we support the revision because we advocate world peace.”

At the rally, which marked six months since the group’s founding, the council confirmed its determination to continue debate on the issue in order to draw up the draft by Nov. 3.

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