There was a scuffle among Japanese lawmakers on Thursday during a heated debate over a security bill that could see the military fight abroad for the first time in decades.
The bill, which has already been passed by the government-dominated lower house, seeks to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow it to defend its allies overseas even when it is not under attack.
Japan’s parliament has always been known as a “cold” one but on Thursday, members of the opposition and the ruling coalition pushed and shoved each other as a committee chairman was surrounded.
Tensions ran high after the committee vote was repeatedly delayed over Wednesday night, as opposition MPs blocked doorways and packed the corridors of parliament in protest.
Thirteen people were also reportedly arrested during the evening for “interfering with officers” during a rally of an estimated 13,000 people outside parliament in Tokyo.
Under the planned changes, the military – known as the self-defence forces – would have the option of going into battle to protect allies such as the United States even if there was no direct threat to Japan or its people.
Although the constitution, which bars troops from taking part in combat except in pure self-defence, was imposed by US occupiers, many Japanese feel strongly a change in the law would alter the country’s pacifist character.
The bills are scheduled to be sent to a plenary session of the upper house after being voted on by the committee, potentially seeing them become law this week.