Japan's ruling coalition submitted to parliament a package of legislative proposals Wednesday aimed at giving the government greater powers to respond to foreign military attacks and to increase the scope of the country's Self Defense Forces. Critics of the controversial legislation say it would infringe on human rights and violate Japan's pacifist constitution.

The three bills on emergency military action were approved Tuesday by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet before they were presented to the Japanese Diet Wednesday. Conservative politicians, including the prime minister, believe that without such laws, the country might not be able to defend itself if invaded.

Mr. Koizumi said this legislation can help Japan prepare for emergencies and protect the lives and safety of Japanese citizens.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda warned the bills must pass parliament because Japan needs a clear chain of command if invaded.

Under the proposed laws, the prime minister would have greater powers to retaliate against foreign attackers and to order local authorities to take defensive steps. Civilians would be obliged to obey government decisions, including the deployment of the Self Defense Forces on their land. Currently, Japan has no laws detailing how the SDF should mobilize if attacked.

Debate over this contentious issue has been raging in Japan for nearly three decades. Many Japanese people oppose the legislation, saying that it would undercut civil liberties and go against Japan's pacifist constitution written with U.S. participation after World War II. They also say that the bills are too vague.

Protesters gathered outside the Parliament and in central Tokyo to demonstrate against the proposed laws. Legislators are expected to start debating the measures next week and vote on them before the legislative session ends in mid-June.

The parliament, responding to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, enacted new law last October to allow the country's military provide non-combat support to the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan. The new law made it possible for Japan to send its military overseas during an armed conflict for the first time since the Second World War.