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Abe sticking with goal to seek constitutional amendment by 2020

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to media members at his office in Tokyo on April 1, 2019, to explain the name of Japan's new era, "Reiwa," announced by the government earlier in the day. The new era will begin May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the throne to succeed his father Emperor Akihito. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he maintains his goal of bringing about the first-ever amendment to Japan's pacifist Constitution by 2020 as the country marked the 72nd anniversary of the supreme law coming into force.

"My thoughts haven't changed," Abe said in a video message shown at a pro-amendment rally in Tokyo, touching on a proposal he made at the same rally in 2017 to put into force a new supreme law by 2020 through rewriting the war-renouncing Article 9.

He reiterated his view that Article 9 should be revised by adding an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces, with the aim of bringing an "end to the debate over the constitutionality" of Japanese troops.

"I will create an environment in which all SDF members can carry out their missions with great pride," Abe said in the video message.

Article 9, which when read literally, prohibits Japan from possessing military forces and other "war potential," has greatly complicated the status of the SDF. To ensure consistency, the government frames the SDF as an entity different from ordinary militaries, with use of force strictly limited to self-defense.

Abe is apparently eager to leave a legacy, having said his current third term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party president through September 2021 will be his last. He cannot serve four consecutive terms without a change to party rules.

The video message released Friday could be seen as part of his efforts to reassure conservative supporters at a time when talks on the issue have shown no progress in the parliament.

Leaders of some opposition parties, who attended events to oppose constitutional amendment the same day, criticized the Abe government and his proposal to rewrite Article 9.

The change will bring "an unrestrained expansion of the right to self-defense," said Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Democratic Party for the People.

Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii said the House of Councillors election in the summer will be a chance to seek a public verdict on the issue of whether to change the Constitution.

The current Constitution has not been revised since it went into effect in 1947, and no bids have been made to initiate a formal amendment process, partly because of the high hurdle in proposing an amendment in parliament before it can be put to a national referendum.

Article 9 is the most famous and contentious clause of the Constitution, which conservatives often decry as a product of the U.S.-led occupation after Japan's defeat in World War II.

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