U.S. attends Hiroshima bombing ceremony for first time
HIROSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - Japan marked the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima Friday with the United States represented at the ceremony for the first time.
A peace bell tolled at 8:15 a.m., the time the bomb was dropped by the U.S. B-29 warplane Enola Gay on August 6, 1945, as tens of thousands of elderly survivors, children and dignitaries held a minute of silence under the burning summer sun.
"Clearly, the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating our global conscience," Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said in a speech followed by the release of white doves.
Japan often refers to its position as the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks when calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The United States dropped a second atomic bomb on the southern city of Nagasaki days after the one on Hiroshima.
But Prime Minister Naoto Kan reaffirmed the need for Japan to stay under the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," highlighting the paradox of Japan's dependence on Washington's nuclear capability even as it shuns the possession of such weapons.
"I think that nuclear deterrence continues to be necessary for our nation at a time when there are unclear and uncertain factors," Kyodo news agency quoted Kan as saying after the ceremony.
Japan's U.S.-drafted 1947 constitution prohibits the country from maintaining armed forces or waging war, although it has been interpreted as allowing armed forces for purely defense purposes.
The United States, now Japan's biggest security ally, sent a representative to the ceremony for the first time, reflecting the two countries' close ties and President Barack Obama's push to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
"For the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons," U.S. Ambassador John Roos said in a statement.
But a row over the relocation of a U.S. air base on the southern Japan island of Okinawa has frayed ties and has fueled debate over Japan's defense policy as it confronts China's growing military might and an unpredictable North Korea.
Media reports have said an advisory panel will soon urge the government to loosen its ban on allowing nuclear arms into the country, as Japan plans a defense review by the end of the year.
But while some conservative politicians have also called for a debate on Japan having its own nuclear weapons, there is little support among the broader public.
Kan reiterated sticking to Japan's self-imposed ban on the possession, production and import of nuclear arms.
"We want nuclear disarmament, and if the United States takes the lead other countries may follow its steps," said Tomiko Matsumoto, a 78-year-old atomic bomb survivor in Hiroshima.
"First I hated them (the United States), but that hatred has disappeared. Now I want to see a peaceful world."
(Editing by Nick Macfie)