Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Abe urges constitutional overhaul

AFP , TOKYO

Shinzo Abe, the front-runner to become Japan's next prime minister, yesterday called for revisions to the pacifist Constitution imposed after World War II, saying the country must adapt to a new era.

The 51-year-old chief Cabinet secretary also called for Japan to shake up its leadership structure to set up a decision-coordinating body similar to the US National Security Council.

"The next leader will have to have the leadership to include a new constitution on his political agenda," Abe said in a speech in Yokohama.

"Drafting a new constitution would open up a new era. We really need this spirit to bring us into a new era," he said.

The Constitution, which the US forced on Japan in 1947, bans the country from using force or maintaining a military.

But the country has been gradually taking on a larger military role, sending troops to Iraq on a reconstruction mission in which they did not fire a shot.

Abe plans to unveil his platform on Sept. 1 ahead of the Sept. 20 vote of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that decides on the successor to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe is widely expected to pledge to revise the Constitution to state clearly that Japan has a military for self-defense, media have reported.

Japan calls its military the "Self-Defense Forces" because of the Constitution.

Most Japanese support the revision, according to opinion polls, but such moves are certain to raise criticism in neighboring countries.

Koizumi has infuriated China and South Korea by going each year to the Yasukuni Shrine honoring war dead and war criminals.

He last visited on Aug. 15, the anniversary of his country's World War II surrender.

The LDP has already proposed revising the Constitution to state that Japan has a military which can be used for self-defense and can take part in international operations to secure "peace and security."

Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the Diet and approval in a nationwide referendum, in which pacifist groups are certain to campaign hard against change.

Koizumi has also supported creating a Defense Ministry, which now is called the Defense Agency and whose chief does not have the Cabinet status of a minister.

Abe said Japan needed a decision-making body similar to the US National Security Council, which is headed by the president and includes key aides.

"We must create an organization in the prime minister's residence, one similar to the United States' National Security Council," Abe said.

"It is necessary to have a unit that would gather and analyze information, with its director well-connected to his counterpart's aide at the National Security Council of the United States," he said.

An opinion poll published yesterday showed that Abe has continued to gain support.

Some 46.9 percent of the public favors him as the next premier, up 1.3 points from the previous poll late last month, said the conservative Sankei Shimbun which telephoned 2,000 people.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who has cast himself as a dove, trailed at 9.4 percent support.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso, a conservative, had 6.7 percent backing, with 21.5 percent saying Japan has no suitable candidate.

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