Japan has marked the 69th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The city's mayor called on President Barack Obama and other leaders to come see the results of the unprecedented destruction themselves.
Bells rang out in Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. local time (2315 UTC) on Wednesday marking the moment the US atomic bomb detonated over the city, killing an estimated 140,000 people. Survivors, relatives and government officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, were among the 45,000 people gathered at Hiroshima's peace park near the epicenter for a ceremony.
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui invited world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, to a ministerial meeting in April of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in the city. He urged them to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the site of the devastating US atomic bombing three days later that killed a further 70,000 people.
"President Obama and all leaders of nuclear armed nations, please respond to that call by visiting the A-bombed cities as soon as possible to see what happened with your own eyes," Matsui said. "If you do, you will be convinced that nuclear weapons are an absolute evil that must no longer be allowed to exist."
The American bomber Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb, dubbed "Little Boy," on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Around half of the 140,000 victims were killed instantly. On August 9, "Fat Man" exploded over the port city of Nagasaki. The two bombings remain the only time in history the atomic bomb has been used in combat.
Last week, the last surviving airman of the Enola Gay, Theodore VanKirk, died in the US aged 93.
The atomic bombings, along with the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan, are seen as having brought World War II to a close. Whether the bombings prevented more casualties than a planned land invasion of Japan, however, remains debated.
During the ceremony on Wednesday, which was attended by US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Matsui said people should listen to the voices of atomic bomb survivors, called Hibakusha in Japan.
"Water, please." Voices from the brink of death are still lodged in the memory of a boy who was 15 and a junior high student," Matsui said, referring to a survivor who the Hiroshima mayor described as seeing "badly burned, grotesquely swollen faces, eyebrows and eyelashes singed off, school uniforms in tatters."
Matsui said many survivors feel extreme guilt for having lived through the bombings, but "people who rarely talked about the past because of their ghastly experiences are now, in old age, starting to open up."
Prime Minister Abe, who had drawn criticism domestically for his more assertive national security stance, said it was Japan's duty as the world's only atomic bombing survivor to lead the way in eliminating nuclear weapons.
"Japan has a responsibility to realize a world without nuclear weapons, and to continue conveying their cruelty to future generations and to the world," he said.
dr/lw (dpa, AP, AFP)