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June 25, 2017

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Japan pushing on with military reform despite fiery suicide bid

TOKYO--Pacifist Japan is pressing ahead with divisive plans to loosen restrictions on its military, a top government spokesman said Monday, despite widespread public anger and a protester's horrific suicide bid.

Hundreds of people in the busy Tokyo district of Shinjuku watched on Sunday afternoon as a middle-aged man in a suit set himself ablaze above a footbridge, after making a speech opposing moves to let Japan's well-equipped military fight on behalf of allies.

The dramatic suicide attempt was widely discussed on social media, with numerous videos and photographs posted by onlookers.

Several thousand protesters showed up outside the premier's Tokyo office on Monday evening, shouting slogans such as "no war" and "arrest the fascists" — as some carried posters showing Abe with a moustache similar to that of Adolph Hitler.

The United States, Tokyo's chief ally, has backed Abe's plans, but they are highly controversial at home, where voters feel deeply connected to the pacifism Japan adopted after World War II.

The government's chief spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Monday refused to comment on the suicide attempt, but confirmed that the cabinet would push ahead Tuesday with plans to change the interpretation of part of the pacifist constitution.

Japan's military is currently barred from taking action, except in very narrow circumstances in which the country is attacked.

"We are in the final stage of the coordination between the ruling parties," Suga told reporters. "Once a consensus is made between the ruling parties, we will have it approved by the cabinet tomorrow."

Strong Public Opposition

At least half the population is against a more aggressive military stance, according to the latest polls.

The liberal Mainichi newspaper said at the weekend that 58 percent of voters are opposed, while the Nikkei business daily, in its poll published Monday, said 50 percent of respondents were against the change.

China also warns against moves to bolster Japan's military might, saying Tokyo is not sufficiently penitent over its actions in World War II.

It sent two ships into waters around disputed islands on Monday, a regular tactic in the long-running animosity.

Tokyo police said Monday that nothing was known of the protester's condition more than 24 hours after he was rushed to hospital with severe burns.

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