A man in Japan set himself on fire at a busy intersection in Tokyo on Sunday in an apparent protest against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to broaden Japan’s military capabilities, police and witnesses said.
Authorities hosed down the unidentified man and carried him away, according to witness accounts and pictures posted to social media. It was not immediately clear whether he survived.
Japan is poised for a historic shift in its defense policy by ending a ban that has kept the military from fighting abroad since World War II. Abe's cabinet could adopt a resolution as early as Tuesday revising a long-standing interpretation of the constitution in order to lift the ban.
According to witnesses and social media posts, the man appeared to be wearing a suit, glasses and a tie. He sat atop a pedestrian bridge and spoke through a megaphone to protest plans to end a ban on exercising “collective self-defense,” or aiding a friendly country under attack.
A police spokeswoman confirmed the incident, which took place near bustling Shinjuku station, but would not provide further details.
Ryuichiro Nakatsu, an 18-year-old student, said, “he was sitting cross legged and was just talking, so I thought it would end without incident. But when I came back to the same place 30 minutes later, he was still there. Then all of a sudden his body was enveloped in fire.”
“He was yelling against the government, about collective self-defense,” he said.
After World War II and during its occupation of Japan, the U.S. government drafted a constitution aimed at declawing a power that had just several years before swept across swaths of East Asia and Polynesia.
The planned change in defense strategy marks a major step away from U.S.-imposed post-War War II pacifism and widens Japan's military options. Under its constitution the country has had a limited, non-combatant role as part of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, and in peacekeeping operations.
Although Japan still boasts modern military equipment today, it can’t use it under the agreement.
Japanese conservatives say the constitution war-renouncing Article 9 has excessively restricted Japan's ability to defend itself. They also argue that a changing regional power balance — including a rising China — means Japan's security policies must be more flexible.
The move will likely rile an increasingly assertive Beijing, whose already delicate ties with Japan have chilled due to a maritime dispute, mutual mistrust and the legacy of Japan's past military aggression. Washington will welcome the move, having long urged Japan to become a more equal partner in the alliance between the two countries.
Since the end of World War II, the United States has maintained a strong military presence in Japan, tasked with protecting the country from international adversaries. The arrangement is costly for the U.S., which has seen its forces stretched thin over the last decade by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Japan began its first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years in April, breaking ground on a radar station on a tropical island off Taiwan. The move risks angering China, locked in a dispute with Japan over nearby islands, which they both claim.
Al Jazeera and wire services