TOKYO, Dec 14: Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tokyo on Sunday, denouncing a government decision to send troops to Iraq as a violation of Japan’s pacifist constitution.
Opposition lawmakers joined a rally organised by the largest labour union to condemn the cabinet go-ahead which opens the way for Japanese troops to assist in the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
“The main reason why we oppose (the decision) is that it goes beyond the constitution... We have long sworn not to exercise force overseas and we have stuck to it,” Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the main opposition the Democratic Party, told participants.
“We must never send the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to Iraq,” added Mizuho Fukushima, head of the smaller Social Democratic Party, referring to Japan’s military.
Police and organisers said around 5,000 people gathered for the rally and marched through central Tokyo. They carried placards saying: “End to war” or “No to SDF dispatch.”
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s cabinet approved a plan on Tuesday to send troops to Iraq, clearing the way for what is likely to be the nation’s biggest and most dangerous overseas military mission since World War Two.
Koizumi has had to balance Japan’s security ties with the US, which is keen to secure Japanese help in Iraq. He says the troops will take part in humanitarian reconstruction activities and not in combat.