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Constitutional Revision Plan Officially Unveiled in Japan

Japan's governing party has marked the 50th anniversary of its founding by unveiling a proposed new constitution for the country. The changes, if enacted, would allow Japan to play a larger role in international military operations.

The draft constitution would allow Japan to have a more normal military than it has possessed since its defeat in World War II.

The draft rewrites a part of Article 9 of the post-war pacifist constitution, which prohibits Japan from possessing "land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential."

Japan's existing 24,000 strong military is referred to as the Self-Defense Forces, and its area of activity is limited. The draft would allow for more normal military activity, and call the force the "self-defense army."

The draft would also drop a clause that forbids Japan from engaging in war along with other nations, and in a foreign country.

The draft says the defense forces can take part in efforts to maintain international peace and security "under international cooperation."

The Liberal Democratic Party threw itself a 50th birthday party in Tokyo on Tuesday, and party veterans unwrapped what they called a gift to the nation - the revised constitution - that they have been crafting for years.

Former cabinet minister Taku Yamasaki, a confidante of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, says the party is seeking a national consensus on constitutional revision.

Mr. Yamasaki says that putting the proposed reform of the constitution before the people is a great step forward.

The existing constitution was imposed by the U.S. occupation following Japan's defeat in World War II, and was meant to preclude Japan from ever waging war again.

But the LDP and Prime Minister Koizumi have been emboldened by a resounding victory in national parliamentary elections in September, and are under pressure from the United States to take a more active role in international security. The party is now pushing into a sensitive area - tampering with Article 9 - that was considered political suicide until the first Gulf War in 1981.

Japan contributed funds but no forces to that war. Criticism followed that the country was willing to send money instead of spilling blood for international peace-keeping and collective security operations. This stung the country, and prompted the first serious discussion of a constitutional revision.

Analysts say the proposed changes would allow Japan to participate unconditionally in joint military operations with the United States and other allies, come to the aid of its friends in time of war, and play a more prominent role in international security operations, such as the present U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Although the draft retains the current document's war-renouncing clause, the suggested changes are certain to raise anxiety among Japan's Asian neighbors, who remain bitter about Tokyo's brutal colonization in the region before and during World War II.

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