HIROSHIMA – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi received boos and weak applause Friday after his speech at the annual atomic bombing memorial ceremony in Hiroshima.
The response was apparently over local disapproval of moves by the government and the Liberal Democratic Party to revise the pacifist Constitution.
Koizumi spoke before a crowd of about 45,000 at the 59th anniversary ceremonies of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in which he reiterated his pledge to observe the war-renouncing Constitution.
But in sharp contrast to the warm reception given to Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and other speakers, the prime minister received only a lukewarm welcome, and after his speech there was booing and quiet applause.
Koizumi appeared irritated and made his address quickly and in a low voice.
“I was not able to hear what he was saying, even though he was using a microphone,” one woman said.
Earlier, in Akiba’s speech, the annual Peace Declaration, the mayor not only criticized the United States for “egocentric” global and nuclear policies, but also spoke out harshly against the Japanese government for considering revisions to the Constitution.
“The Japanese government . . . should defend the peace Constitution, of which all Japanese should be proud, and work diligently to change the trend toward open acceptance of war and nuclear weapons,” Akiba, a former opposition lawmaker, said.
Akiba, leading the Mayors for Peace, an organization composed of 611 mayors of cities in 109 countries, gave a de facto warning to Koizumi and other senior lawmakers of his LDP as well as those in the opposition camp who are arguing for revisions to the Constitution.
It was Koizumi’s fourth time at the Hiroshima peace ceremony as prime minister but the first since his government deployed noncombat troops to Iraq to assist in reconstruction — the first dispatch of Japanese troops to a country with ongoing hostilities since World War II.
At a news conference in Hiroshima after the ceremony, Koizumi said: “We sent (the troops to Iraq) within the framework of the Constitution. The troops represent the Japanese (people’s) goodwill and are undertaking humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.”
On revising the Constitution, he said, “I think discussions on revising Article 9 should be conducted on the premise of pacifism and respect for fundamental human rights.”
But A-bomb survivors who listened to Koizumi at the ceremony questioned the need to revise the Constitution.
“Without question, Japan should maintain its peaceful Constitution, and the SDF should commit themselves only to protecting Japan,” said Makiko Kawamura, 75.
A 63-year-old man said: “I cannot agree with revising the Constitution. I’m scared that Asian countries would protest.”
Shots fired at hotel
HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) Police said a hotel here owned by the Japan Teachers Union was apparently fired upon early Friday morning.
Two slugs were found near a shattered glass door at the front of the hotel that had apparently been hit by gunfire, they said. Nobody was injured.
About 40 people, including teachers and elementary school pupils, were staying at the hotel, the Hiroshima Kyoiku Kaikan, to attend the memorial service Friday to mark the 59th anniversary of the A-bombing of the city.
In June 2003, two shots were fired at the office of the teachers’ union’s Hiroshima Prefecture chapter, which is in a building next to the hotel, in Higashi Ward.
A rightwing extremist group claimed responsibility for that attack. In December, police arrested five members of the group, including one suspected of firing at the building.
The manager of the hotel said there was nothing unusual when the hotel closed its front door at around midnight Thursday. An employee on night duty said he heard a crashing sound at around 3 a.m.
A section meeting of an international conference hosted by the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikin) and other organizations was held Thursday morning at the hotel, police said.
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