TOKYO — Thousands of people rallied here Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of Japan's pacifist constitution by protesting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's calls for amendments to allow the military a wider role and revive national pride.
Overhauling the constitution, written by U.S. occupation forces after World War II, is one of Abe's top political goals. The constitution, which bans military force in settling international disputes and prohibits maintaining a military for warfare, has not been altered since its adoption in 1947.
"A bold review of Japan's postwar stance and an in-depth discussion of the constitution for a 'new Japan' is necessary ... to open up a new era," Abe said in a statement Thursday. He said he was determined to work "toward a Japan that instills confidence and pride among its children."
Civic groups and lawmakers rallied across Japan, either for or against constitutional change.
In one of the largest demonstrations, about 10,000 people at Tokyo's Hibiya Park protested Abe's move to alter the pacifist clauses. There were no arrests, though right-wing activists harassing the demonstrators briefly scuffled with police.
In another rally, opposition leader Naoto Kan of the Democratic Party of Japan said Abe's push for rapid constitutional change should be stopped.
At a gathering of conservative lawmakers, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone voiced support for revisions that would instill pride and respect for Japanese "tradition and culture."
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has pushed for decades for changes that would ease restrictions on Japan's military, including recognizing the nation's right to have a standing army.
Japan has stretched the constitution's limits, with the government interpreting its pacifist clauses to mean the country can have troops for defense, allowing the existence of its 240,000-strong Self-Defense Forces.