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    The recent move to hold a referendum on amending Japan's pacifist Constitution could affect the political climate in the whole East Asian region, a Russian diplomatic source said Friday.

    MOSCOW, April 13 (RIA Novosti) - The recent move to hold a referendum on amending Japan's pacifist Constitution could affect the political climate in the whole East Asian region, a Russian diplomatic source said Friday.

    Japan's lower house of parliament Friday passed legislation that could potentially give the Japanese military a larger global role, despite strong protests from the opposition.

    "In essence, Japan has taken the first step to beginning a process that could, depending on future developments, seriously affect the political situation in East Asia," the source, who asked to remain anonymous, told RIA Novosti.

    "We will closely monitor the development of the situation [with constitutional changes in Japan]," the source said.

    The current Japanese Constitution prohibits the use of military force as a means of resolving international disputes, and special legislative acts are necessary to allow Japanese soldiers to participate in peacekeeping and other military missions abroad.

    The Japanese government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, aims to amend articles of the Constitution that, in particular, prohibit the country from having its own armed forces.

    Although Japan's military is reasonably combat-capable, it still cannot participate in combat operations abroad, and is officially called the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF).

    According to 2005 data, the JSDF numbered 239,500 with about 58,000 personnel in the Reserves.

    Abe, who has been vying for broader military cooperation with the United States since his election as prime minister in September 2006, has used the parliamentary majority of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to push for a national referendum on a broader use of the Japanese military.

    Some polls estimate that up to 46% of Japan's citizens support amending the country's pacifist Constitution. In order to ensure even broader participation of the population in the referendum, the recent bill calls for discussion of a proposal to lower the voting age in Japan from 20 to 18.

    The legislation, passed by the LDP majority in the lower house Friday, will be reviewed by the upper house of the Japanese parliament next week.

    The current Constitution, drafted by U.S. occupation authorities in 1947, has never been amended.

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