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Japan leader backs constitution revision
Updated: 2005-02-03 10:15

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday backed revising Japan's post-World War II pacifist constitution to begin calling government troops the Japanese military instead of the self-defense force.

The constitution drafted by U.S. occupation forces and unchanged since 1947 bars the use of military force in settling international disputes and prohibits maintaining armed forces for warfare.

The Japanese government has interpreted that to mean the nation can maintain troops for self-defense, and its force has become one of the most modern, best-equipped militaries in the world.

Japanese troops have taken an increasingly high-profile role in recent years, prompting some critics to accuse Tokyo of moving away from its post-war pacifism.

Koizumi, who has strongly backed a bigger role for Japan's forces, said Wednesday it was time for the troops to be openly referred to as a military.

"To still be saying that Self-Defense Forces are in violation of the constitution strikes both the public and experts as strange. Whether they're called Self-Defense Forces or a Self-Defense Military, an organization to defend Japan should be clearly defined so that it does not raise issues of unconstitutionality," he told reporters Wednesday evening.

Earlier during parliamentary questioning, Koizumi had agreed with opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Yukio Hatayama that the forces should "be clearly designated as a Self-Defense Military" in the constitution.

Koizumi added that regardless of what the troops are called, "in the event they are dispatched abroad, they will not engage in the use of force."

Koizumi has prodded the country into open debate about constitutional reform and he has been criticized for taking steps that have stretched the limits of the constitution.

Koizumi has sent 500 troops to Iraq for humanitarian and reconstruction work, but many say they could get drawn into combat. Earlier in 2001, he pushed through special legislation to let the navy provide logistical support to forces in Afghanistan for the U.S. "war on terror."

Critics have said such efforts are chipping away at the pacifist society Japan has built since its destruction in World War II.

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