Japan upper house panel approves contentious defense bills amid chaos

TOKYO (Reuters) - A panel in Japan's upper house on Thursday approved legislation for a security policy shift that would allow troops to fight abroad for the first time since World War Two, a ruling party lawmaker said.

Opposition lawmakers tried to physically prevent the vote in a chaotic scene carried live on national television. The legislation has sparked huge protests from ordinary voters.

The government says the changes to the law, welcomed by ally Washington, are vital to meet new challenges, such as that presented by rising neighbor China, whose recent assertiveness in the South China Sea has upset countries in the region.

But opponents say the revisions, which the government aims to get voted into law by the entire upper house this week, violate the pacifist constitution and could embroil Japan in U.S.-led conflicts around the globe.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc has an upper house majority, but opposition parties have vowed to prevent a vote by the full chamber before parliament disperses on Sept. 27, even if they have to use delaying tactics such as no-confidence and censure motions. The legislation has already been approved by the lower house.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Chang-Ran Kim)