TOKYO - Japan's government will press ahead with divisive plans to loosen restrictions on its military, a top government spokesman said on Monday, despite widespread public anger that erupted into a fiery suicide bid by a middle-aged protestor.
Hundreds of people in the busy Tokyo district of Shinjuku watched on Sunday afternoon as a man in a suit set himself ablaze on top of a footbridge, after making a speech opposing moves to let Japan's well-equipped military fight on behalf of allies.
The dramatic conflagration - a highly unusual act in Japan - was widely discussed on social media in both English and Japanese, with numerous videos and photographs posted by onlookers. Many Internet users made the connection between the self-immolation and a groundswell of opposition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to relax constitutional rules preventing Japan's armed forces from going into battle.
However, the issue received scant coverage in the mainstream media, with none of the national newspapers using a picture in their short reports. National broadcaster NHK, whose chairman caused outrage earlier this year by suggesting that the state-funded body should not contradict the prime minister, did not cover the self-immolation on the day. At least two private broadcasters did, using footage that had been posted on YouTube.
The government's chief spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Monday refused to comment on the suicide attempt, which he said was a police matter, but confirmed that the cabinet would push ahead on Tuesday with plans to change the interpretation of part of the pacifist constitution.
Under the current reading, Japan's large and well-trained military is barred from taking any action, except in very-narrowly defined circumstances in which the country is under attack.
"We are in the final stage of the coordination between the ruling parties," Mr Suga told reporters. "Once the consensus is made between the ruling parties, we will have it approved by the cabinet tomorrow."