Japan's military influence bills pushed through parliament
Japan's ruling party has pushed through bills that would increase the country's military influence.
The move caused chaos in Japan's legislative chamber as opposition politicians surged towards the chairman's seat to protest the vote as ruling party members protected him.
A senior opposition leader later said they would not accept the vote, which happened without them knowing.
If the vote stands, the legislation will go to the upper house of parliament for final approval.
Japan's military's influence is a highly sensitive issue in the country where many take pride in the pacifist constitution.
The legislative stand-off is the latest development in a national debate about the way Japan uses its military. It has been a central question for the country since its armed forces were defeated in the Second World War.
Before the vote, opposition politicians introduced a no-confidence motion against the committee chairman, who earlier had tried to force the meeting to start.
The motion was the latest delaying tactic by opposition members who are trying to scrap the ruling party bills, which would allow the military to defend Japan's allies even when the country is not under attack, work more closely with the US and other allies, and do more in international peacekeeping.
Despite the delays, the bills are likely to be passed eventually because Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc has a majority in the upper house.
Mr Abe says Japan needs the bills to bolster its defence amid China's growing assertiveness and to share global peacekeeping efforts. Opponents say the legislation violates Japan's war-renouncing constitution, while putting Japan at risk of being embroiled in US-led wars.
The ruling party's hope that final approval by the full upper house would take place later on Thursday appeared increasingly difficult as the opposition plans to propose a series of no-confidence votes against Mr Abe's cabinet and its key members - a process likely to take more than half a day - before a house vote can take place.
Those no-confidence motions, however, are purely symbolic and meant to be delaying tactics. They would have no impact on the stability of Mr Abe's government.
Hundreds of protesters continued to rally outside the parliament building after a bigger demonstration by thousands the previous night.
"Anyone who understands the basic principle of the constitution cannot help but oppose the legislation," Aki Okuda, a leader of the group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracies, told reporters. "It's ridiculous, and the bills' legal questions have fuelled the people's anger."
The bills, passed by the more powerful lower house in July, have since been debated in the upper house. Mr Abe's ruling party wants them approved by Friday to avoid a swelling of protests during an upcoming five-day weekend. Mr Abe also promised the US that the bills would pass in parliament by the summer.
Media surveys have consistently showed a majority of respondents oppose the legislation. One released on Monday by the liberal-leaning Asahi newspaper showed 54% opposed the bills, compared to 29% supporting them.
Opposition politicians, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, prevented colleagues from entering a designated upper house chamber all night on Wednesday. They filled the hallway outside the room, blocking the chairman and holding up a preliminary question-and-answer session.
Katsuya Okada, head of the party, said it was "outrageous" for Mr Abe's ruling block to rush a vote on legislation that has split the nation. "We must join our forces and block their ploy," he said.