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After Brawls in Parliament, Lawmakers Vote to Give Japan’s Military Freer Hand

Japanese lawmakers brawled over a bill to expand the military's engagement in conflict this week. On Friday, the bill passed 148 to 90.

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After more than 200 hours of deliberation, which on Thursday boiled over into full-on brawls between angry lawmakers, the Japanese parliament approved historic measures greatly expanding the Japanese military’s ability to operate overseas.

The bill allows the country’s armed forces to fight outside Japanese territory for the first time since the end of World War II in cases where Japan or a close ally is attacked or where there are no other means available to repel an attack on Japan.

Tens of thousands of Japanese citizens had clogged the streets of Tokyo for months to express opposition to the bill because it contradicts decades of pacifist tradition. Inside parliament, opposition lawmakers argued that the measures could allow the country’s military to be dragged into future U.S. military efforts abroad. Fears of involvement in American-led conflicts were exacerbated by the Obama administration’s endorsement of the bill, which reinterprets Japan’s largely pacifist constitution. “We should not allow such a dangerous government to continue like this,” said Akira Gunji, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. “Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe’s security bill is a threat to our legal framework.”

None of that was enough to block the measures, which had been strongly backed by Abe, the country’s nationalist prime minister. The measures’ passage was a major political victory for his administration, which is increasingly worried about China’s aggressive push to seize disputed islands in the East China Sea. “If you put the power of the U.S. Navy and Japan’s maritime self-defense forces together, then one plus one will finally become two,” Abe told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.

The victory didn’t come easy: On Thursday, lawmakers dressed in business attire clambered over each other to prevent the committee chairman from calling for a vote. The members of parliament kicked and pushed their way toward the chairman in desperate attempts to get hold of his microphone. Watch the unexpected brawl below:

It wasn’t enough. The bill was approved in a 148 to 90 vote Friday.

Photo credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

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