Pacifist sets himself on fire in Tokyo protest against Japan defence policy changes

Witnesses say man denounced plan to change self-defence policy before bursting into flames

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 June, 2014, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 10:53pm

A man in Japan set himself on fire at a busy intersection in Tokyo yesterday in an apparent protest against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to ease limits of the country's pacifist constitution.

Japan is poised for a historic shift in its defence policy by ending a ban that has kept the military from fighting abroad since the second world war.

Abe's cabinet is expected to adopt as early as tomorrow a resolution revising a long-standing interpretation of the US-drafted constitution to lift the ban after his ruling party finalises an agreement with its junior partner.

It was not clear whether the man survived, although a police spokeswoman confirmed the incident, which took place near bustling Shinjuku station.

Witnesses said the man, perched on a pedestrian bridge, used a megaphone to protest against plans to end a ban on exercising "collective self- defence", or aiding a friendly country under attack.

Shots of the incident on social media showed a man clad in a suit and tie sitting on a small mat along the metal framework above a pedestrian walkway with two plastic bottles of what looked like petrol beside him.

"He was sitting cross-legged and was just talking, so I thought it would end without incident. But when I came back 30 minutes later, he was still there. Then all of a sudden his body was enveloped in fire," said Ryuichiro Nakatsu, an 18-year-old student.

"He was yelling against the government, about collective self-defence."

Witnesses said the man was hosed down and carried away. The national broadcaster NHK showed firefighters using hoses to extinguish the flames.

Conservatives say the charter's war-renouncing Article 9 has restricted Japan's ability to defend itself and that a changing regional power balance including a rising China means Japan's security policies must be more flexible.

The change will likely rile an increasingly assertive China, whose ties with Japan have chilled amid maritime disputes.