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Japan's Abe set to push through security bills in summer of discontent

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces his toughest challenge since taking office in 2012 as his ruling bloc prepares to force unpopular security bills through the lower house despite voter doubts about the legislation and a slew of other policies.

[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces his toughest challenge since taking office in 2012 as his ruling bloc prepares to force unpopular security bills through the lower house despite voter doubts about the legislation and a slew of other policies.

The legislation, based on a July 2014 cabinet resolution, would implement a dramatic change in defence policy allowing Japanese troops to fight abroad for the first time since Tokyo's defeat in World War Two.

Mr Abe says the changes, welcomed by ally Washington, are vital to meet new challenges such as from a rising China.

Opponents say the revisions violate the pacifist constitution and could entangle Japan in US-led conflicts around the globe.

The bills are expected to be approved in committee on Wednesday and the full lower house, where the ruling bloc has an overwhelming majority, later this week and then move to the upper chamber.

The prime minister's ratings have slipped due to voter concerns about the plan to drop a ban on collective self-defence, or fighting to defend a friendly country under attack.

Mr Abe's disapproval rate rose nine points to 43 per cent while support fell seven points to 41 per cent in a recent NHK public TV poll. "Political veterans are starting to predict that, like his grandfather (Nobusuke) Kishi, he may achieve his goal but have to resign," said independent political analyst Minoru Morita, though he added the likelihood of such a scenario was 50-50.

Mr Kishi, a wartime cabinet minister who served as premier from 1957 to 1960, resigned due to a public furore after pushing a revised US-Japan security pact through parliament.

Mr Abe has other headaches.

Kyushu Electric Power is expected next month to reboot a nuclear reactor off-line since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the first restart in nearly two years, despite public misgivings.

Public ire is mounting over ballooning costs for a new national stadium for the 2020 Summer Olympic games, and a clash between Mr Abe's administration and the governor of Okinawa over a US Marine air base, looks set to come to a head in August.

That is also when Mr Abe will issue a potentially controversial statement marking the 70th anniversary of World War two's end.

Still, Mr Abe, who returned to power in 2012 promising to revive the stale economy, could survive to be elected to another three-year term as head of his Liberal Democratic Party in September, given weak opposition inside and outside his party.

"People think there is something strange about the Abe government, but what is supporting him is the economy," said political commentator Atsuo Ito.

REUTERS