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Monday, May 4, 2009

Both sides on constitutional change hold rallies


Staff writer

The pros and cons of changing the Constitution were on full display Sunday — the 62nd Constitution Day — with both opponents and proponents holding rallies to push their causes.

With a national referendum law taking effect next year to set the procedures for constitutional amendments, several groups in favor of change underlined the need to revise the Constitution.

"There is a huge gap between reality and the Constitution that remains the same since it took effect 62 years ago," Junpei Kiyohara, a representative of a Tokyo-based revisionist group founded by the late former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, told a forum in the capital.

Kiyohara said other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, have amended their constitutions more than 50 times and adapted to the times. He urged Japan to follow in their footsteps.

Groups against revising the Constitution said the pacifist charter should best be untouched.

At a gathering in Hibiya Park in Tokyo, Toshihide Maskawa, who won the Nobel Prize for physics last year, told a crowd of 4,200 people, "The Constitution is in peril."

"The government interpreted the Constitution in a way to authorize the MSDF dispatch to Somali waters," he said. "Revisionists want even more — the right to engage in warfare."

Article 96 of the Constitution says any revision must be approved by a two-thirds majority in both Diet chambers, followed by a simple majority in a national referendum. But no law setting a procedure for such a referendum existed until 2007, when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instituted the national referendum law.

Former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike, attending the pro-change forum as a guest speaker, said Japan is handcuffed by constitutional constraints whenever it tries to contribute to world peace.

Citing the Maritime Self-Defense Force and its antipiracy mission in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, Koike said the current law allows them to protect only Japan-related ships. A new law to expand the scope of the MSDF's Somali mission is now being deliberated in the Diet.

"Is it really acceptable that our nation will protect our own ships from the pirates but say 'we are sorry we cannot protect other countries' ships due to the Constitution?' "

Information from Kyodo added



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