• Kyodo

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The head of the International Olympic Committee visited Hiroshima on Friday to promote world peace ahead of the Tokyo Games beginning next week, amid opposition from some survivors of the 1945 atomic bombing and citizens who say the visit is politically motivated.

Thomas Bach’s one-day trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima, which has been at the vanguard of the global campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, comes as public frustration persists over the IOC pushing ahead with the Olympics despite the coronavirus pandemic.

It coincided with the starting day of an Olympic truce, the idea dating back to ancient Greece and restored by the United Nations in 1993 to call for a worldwide ceasefire during the games.

Bach visited the Peace Memorial Park in the western Japanese city and observed a moment of silence after laying a wreath at its cenotaph, dedicated to the victims of the bomb dropped by the United States in World War II.

The 67-year-old German, who arrived in Japan last week, also took a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the park and met an 82-year-old survivor of the bombing, together with Seiko Hashimoto, head of the Japanese organizing committee of the Olympics, and local officials.

Hours before his visit to the park in the afternoon, fences were set up around key areas to restrict the entry of regular visitors, similar to measures taken for visits by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016 and Pope Francis in 2019.

A survivor of the bombing in her 80s who was sitting on a bench at the park said, “I wonder if Mr. Bach wanted to visit Hiroshima of his own will. It could be just a performance.”

Another survivor, Toshiyuki Mimaki, 79, acting chair of the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, said, “Now that he came to Hiroshima, I want him to study at the museum and call for the abolition of nuclear weapons to the world.”

A local branch of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, which had called for the cancellation of Bach’s visit to Hiroshima, said in an online petition that staging the Olympics amid the pandemic will be a “disregard for people’s health and lives, and shows that the games is not ‘a festival of peace.'”

The petition, launched last week, had received over 70,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

Another civic group filed a complaint earlier this week with the Hiroshima city and prefectural governments over Bach’s visit, arguing it is taking advantage of their endeavors at promoting world peace and thus “dishonoring” survivors of the bombing.

They have also raised concerns about Bach traveling to Hiroshima from Tokyo when the capital is under a fresh COVID-19 state of emergency.

Tokyo reported 1,308 new cases of the virus on Thursday, the highest since Jan. 21.

Bach’s earlier plan to visit Hiroshima and attend a torch relay event in May was canceled due to a resurgence of infections across the country at the time.

Also on Friday, IOC Vice President John Coates visited Nagasaki, on which the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Aug. 9, 1945, and Japan surrendered six days later, marking the end of World War II.

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