HIROSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - Japan marked the 62nd anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing with a solemn ceremony on Monday as the city’s mayor criticized the United States for refusing to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Tens of thousands of elderly survivors, children and dignitaries gathered at the Peace Memorial Park, near ground zero where the bomb was dropped, to remember the more than 250,000 people who ultimately died from the blast.
“Even to those who managed to survive, it was hell where they envied the dead,” Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba told the crowd, describing scenes from the bombing such as charred faces and torn clothes.
In a speech followed by the release of 1,000 white doves into the sky, Akiba singled out the United States for failing to halt nuclear proliferation.
“The Japanese government, which has the duty to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons through international law, should protect its pacifist constitution which it should be proud of, and clearly say ‘no’ to antiquated and wrong U.S. policies.”
The crowd bowed their heads for a moment of silence as two children rang the Peace Bell at 8:15 a.m., the same time the Enola Gay B-29 bomber dropped the bomb on the western Japanese city on August 6, 1945.
The United States dropped a second atomic bomb on the southern city of Nagasaki on August 9. Six days later, Japan surrendered.
This year’s anniversary followed outrage by local residents over remarks by Japan’s former defense minister that had appeared to condone the bombings.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized on Sunday to survivors in Hiroshima over the comments by Fumio Kyuma, who had said the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “couldn’t be helped” because they brought World War Two to an end.
Kyuma resigned over the remarks.
Abe, after laying a wreath at the ceremony in the sweltering summer heat, said he would abide by Japan’s pacifist constitution and decades-old non-nuclear policy.
“As the only country to have suffered atomic bombings in human history, we have the responsibility to hand down stories of this sad experience to the international community,” he said.
Controversy erupted last year when a senior ruling party lawmaker said Japan should discuss acquiring nuclear weapons after North Korea conducted a nuclear test.
But Abe said repeatedly that Japan would stick to its self-imposed “three non-nuclear principles” banning the possession, production and import of nuclear arms, denying that the government would even debate a change in that stance.
On Sunday, the 52-year-old Abe, Japan’s first premier born after World War Two, promised to review the government’s tough standards for determining whether atomic bomb victims suffer from radiation disease, the subject of a series of lawsuits by victims.
The atomic bomb had killed some 140,000 people by the end of 1945, out of Hiroshima’s estimated population of 350,000. Thousands more succumbed to illness and injuries later.
The names of 5,221 people who died recently were added to the list of victims, bringing the total number recognized by the city to 253,008. A few thousand names are added each year.
“We must never forget the achievements by atomic bomb survivors to prevent a third bombing, by speaking out about experiences they would rather forget with the hope that ‘others do not suffer as we did’,” Hiroshima Mayor Akiba said.