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Japan Diet Panel to Vote on Military Bills Amid Protests

A sign that reads: "We won't let Japan go to war" is held by a protester as people gather for an anti-war rally in front of the National Diet building in Tokyo, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015.

Opposition lawmakers and thousands of protesters were making a last-ditch effort Wednesday to block a vote on security bills that would expand Japan's military role but that have divided the nation.

The bills would allow Japan's military to defend its allies even when Japan isn't under attack, and to do more in international peacekeeping.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan needs the bills to bolster its defense amid China's growing assertiveness and to share the global peacekeeping effort. Opponents say the legislation violates Japan's war-renouncing constitution, while putting Japan at risk of being embroiled in U.S.-led wars.

Opposition lawmakers talked of preventing colleagues from entering the chamber of the committee on the security legislation in the parliament's upper house, where the bills were to be voted on later Wednesday, and proposing a non-confidence vote against Abe's Cabinet. They were backed up by thousands of protesters gathering outside the parliament building.

The bills, passed by the more powerful lower house in July, have since been debated in the upper house. Abe's ruling party wants to have them approved by Friday to avoid a swelling of protests during the upcoming five-day weekend. Abe also has promised the U.S. the bills would pass in parliament by this summer.

Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said it was “outrageous” for Abe's ruling block to rush a vote on the legislation that has split the nation.

“We must join our forces and block their ploy,” he said.

Protesters filled the street outside a hotel near Tokyo, where the committee held a public hearing on the legislation earlier Wednesday.

They were expected to move to the parliament complex to join thousands of other demonstrators already there.