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Tokyo — Japan’s parliament has approved contentious legislation to loosen constraints on the country’s military, giving it a greater role.

The approval at the upper house in the early hours of Saturday makes the legislation into law, loosening post-World War II constraints on use of force by the military to its own self-defense only.

The legislation, passed by the more powerful lower house in July, sparked sizeable protests and debate about whether the nation should shift away from its pacifist ways to face growing security challenges.

Since Thursday, opposition parties had been pulling out all the stops to delay the vote. They introduced a series of no-confidence measures against government ministers and parliamentary leaders, made filibuster speeches and one even made slow “cow walk” to a ballot box to cast his vote.

The maneuvers were destined to fail, but ate up hours of time requiring debate and votes on each measure.

The legislation will allow the military to defend Japan’s allies even when the country isn’t under attack, work more closely with the U.S. and others. They will also be able participate more fully in international peacekeeping.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan needs the legislation to bolster its defense amid China’s growing assertiveness and to share global peacekeeping efforts. Opponents say it violates the constitution and puts the country at risk of becoming embroiled in U.S.-led wars.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party rushed to pass the bills before the start of a five-day weekend Saturday to avoid a possible swelling of the protests. Abe had promised the U.S. that the legislation would be approved by this summer.

Media surveys have consistently shown a majority of Japanese oppose the legislation.

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