HIROSHIMA: Tens of thousands of people gathered for peace ceremonies in Hiroshima on Wednesday, marking the 69th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of the city, as anti-nuclear sentiment runs high in Japan.
Bells tolled as ageing survivors, relatives, government officials and foreign delegates observed a moment of silence in the rain at 8:15 am local time (2315 GMT), when the detonation turned the western Japanese city into an inferno.
People attending Wednesday’s ceremony placed flowers in front of the cenotaph at Peace Memorial Park in downtown Hiroshima.
The city’s mayor Kazumi Matsui recalled the grim memories of one survivor at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.
The survivor, a 15-year-old pupil at the time, remembered hearing “voices from the brink of death” begging for “water, please”. “The pleas were from younger students,” the mayor said, recounting the survivor’s grisly description of “their badly burned, grotesquely swollen faces, eyebrows and eyelashes singed off, school uniforms in ragged tatters”.
Many survivors — known in Japan as “hibakusha” — feel profound guilt over living through the attack, Matsui said.
But “people who rarely talked about the past because of their ghastly experiences are now, in old age, starting to open up”, he added.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and representatives from nearly 70 countries and organizations on Wednesday attended the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.
This was Ms. Kennedy’s first visit to the city since assuming her post last November, and the fourth time that a U.S. ambassador was present at the memorial. Her predecessor, John Roos, attended the event for the first time as the ambassador in 2010, which stirred up debate in both U.S. and Japan.
Ms. Kennedy did not give a speech or lay a wreath at the ceremony, according to the city of Hiroshima. “This is a day for somber reflection and a renewed commitment to building a more peaceful world,” the ambassador said in a statement released by the U.S. Embassy.
As the only country to have suffered atomic bomb attacks, Japan “has the obligation to realize a world without nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in his speech during the ceremony in Hiroshima. Mr. Abe also pledged that Japan will continue to ban production, possession or permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons in the country.
Although Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui did not touch on Mr. Abe’s efforts to revise Japan’s constitution, he kept the government in check by mentioning in his speech that the country has enjoyed 69 years of peace thanks to the document’s “sublime pacifism.”
Following the ceremony, representatives of atomic bombing victims met with Mr. Abe and requested that his cabinet withdraw its decision to pursue the right to collective self-defense.
The prime minister replied that the government’s intention is to provide peace and protect the lives of the Japanese public. He explained that the change is not meant to enable Japan to participate in war.
The ceremony, attended by approximately 45,000 people, began at 8 a.m. An additional 5,507 people were added to the registers of names of fallen atomic bomb victims, bringing the total number to 292,325.
Those present at the ceremony held a minute of silence at 8:15 a.m., the time the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. The attack caused the deaths of approximately 140,000 people in Hiroshima by the end of 1945. Another 70,000 people died in Nagasaki three days later due to the second U.S. atomic bombing on Japan. Ms. Kennedy is also expected to attend the ceremony of the atomic bombings in Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
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