HIROSHIMA – Hiroshima on Saturday marked the 71st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing, with Mayor Kazumi Matsui calling on world leaders to do more to abolish nuclear weapons and to follow U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the city in May with trips of their own.
At a memorial ceremony, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe echoed Matsui’s call and also urged young people to visit to observe the harrowing reality of the atomic bombing. Abe also reiterated Japan’s role in combating nuclear proliferation as the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons.
In the Peace Declaration read at the city’s annual memorial ceremony, Matsui urged the leaders of all nations to visit Hiroshima, which was devastated by an atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, which was obliterated by another atomic strike three days later by the United States, in order to “etch the reality of the atomic bombings in each (leader’s) heart.”
In May, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, and Matsui quoted part of the speech Obama delivered at the same venue in which he said “those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”
Matsui said Obama’s words show that the president was touched by “the spirit of Hiroshima” and its refusal to accept nuclear weapons.
Matsui then called on the world to “unify and manifest our passion in action” to proceed toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
The declaration also touched upon the foreign victims of the atomic bombing, including those from the Korean Peninsula, which was under Japanese colonial rule at the time, as well as from China, Southeast Asia and U.S. soldiers who were prisoners of war.
Also citing Abe’s speech in May in which the leader expressed his determination “to realize a world free of nuclear weapons,” Matsui said, “I expect him to join with President Obama and display leadership in this endeavor.”
Saying that a world without nuclear weapons “would manifest the noble pacifism of the Japanese Constitution,” the mayor stressed the necessity of a legal framework for banning nuclear weapons.
The Article 9 of the Constitution forever renounces war and the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
However, many hibakusha are concerned that Abe’s government is seeking to amend the supreme law, with those in favor of revising the charter now controlling more than two-thirds of seats in both Diet chambers following last month’s Upper House election. A two-thirds majority is a requirement for proposing constitutional amendments.
A moment of silence was observed at 8:15 a.m., the time the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima at an altitude of about 600 meters, killing an estimated 140,000 people by the end of 1945. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 that year, and Japan surrendered six days later, effectively ending the war.
In his speech, Abe said Japan, as the only nation to have suffered from the atomic bombings, continues to uphold Japan’s three non-nuclear principles of not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory.
The prime minister also emphasized the importance of maintaining and enhancing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that binds its signatories not to pursue atomic weapons programs.
Abe also said he will maintain his efforts to create a world free of nuclear weapons by asking both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states for cooperation, and by showing world leaders and young people the painful reality of radiation exposure.
During the ceremony, a message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also read out by a representative.
“Today, the world needs the hibakusha spirit more than ever,” at a time when “global tensions are rising” and progress on nuclear disarmament is “hard to find,” the message said, adding that nuclear powers “have special responsibility to prevent another Hiroshima,”
Ban urged all nations to “find common ground through inclusive dialogue.”
The ceremony was attended by representatives from 91 nations, including recognized nuclear weapons states such as Britain, France, the United States and Russia. The European Union was also represented.
The number of hibakusha stood at 174,080 as of March, and their average age was just over 80 years old.
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