Photo/IllutrationHundreds of police officers try to control counter protesters who gathered in Kawasaki on July 16 to stop a demonstration planned by a group known for staging xenophobic rallies. (Kotaro Ebara)

KAWASAKI--A small group known for staging xenophobic demonstrations had to abruptly change plans July 16 after its members were surrounded by hundreds of counter protesters in Kawasaki.

A large number of police officers were on hand to keep the peace.

One group of Kanagawa Prefecture residents opposed to hate speech gathered near Nakahara peace park here with signs blasting bigots for their views.

Shortly after 11 a.m., a demonstration organized by a group that has called in the past for driving out Korean nationals from Japan suddenly began moving away from the park. Members of the anti-hate speech protest rushed to the demonstration site and within minutes, several hundred counter protesters had surrounded the few dozen members in the demonstration. Some counter protesters sat down to prevent the first group from leaving.

After about 10 minutes, those who came for the demonstration left the area after boarding a bus. The group apparently changed the start of its demonstration after holding consultations with local police.

Police officers tried to reason with the first group and remind the members of a new law that makes hate speech illegal. However, group members said that demonstrating was a basic right and they were not engaging in hate speech.

Some of the counter protesters turned their ire on police officers for allowing the demonstration to begin in the first place.

The anti-Korean group has had demonstrations in Kawasaki called off in the past due to temporary injunctions issued by a local court.

In addition, in June 2016, shortly after the anti-hate speech law took effect, some of the members involved in the latest demonstration planned a protest in Kawasaki, but it had to be called off shortly after it began when hundreds of counter protesters surrounded the demonstrators.

The Kawasaki city government is planning to enforce guidelines to prevent hate speech from March 2018.

Choi Kang-ija, 44, a ethnic Korean living in Kawasaki, said, "We will not lose. Through administrative measures and legal revisions, it will become impossible to engage in hate speech."

(This article was written by Kazuya Ito and Takeshi Kawai.)