November 14, 2009 / 2:20 PM / 10 years ago

Japan atomic bomb-hit city applauds Obama speech

TOKYO (Reuters) - The mayor of the Japanese city of Nagasaki praised U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech laying out his vision for engagement with Asia on Saturday, saying he had paved the way to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Tomihisa Taue, mayor of the southern city bombed by the United States in 1945 in the final days of World War Two, was among the 1,500 people, many Japanese, who packed a concert hall for Obama’s speech in Tokyo, the first stop on an Asia tour.

“The history of nuclear weapons is based on a history of distrust but today he called for trust and cooperation among countries, which is exactly the path toward nuclear disarmament,” Taue told Reuters.

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last month for giving the world “hope for a better future” and striving for nuclear disarmament.

In his speech, he repeated a call for a nuclear-free world, adding: “We must recognize that an escalating nuclear arms race in this region would undermine decades of growing security and prosperity.”

The U.S. leader, who visited Japan as a young child, had said at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday that he wanted some day to visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the western city that was bombed just days before Nagasaki.

More than 260,000 people died from the bomb in Hiroshima, either from the blast or later from the effects of the nuclear explosion, while more than 145,000 died in Nagasaki.

Taue said Nagasaki would greet Obama with open arms.

“People in the city will treat him with respect and give him a friendly welcome as someone who is also trying to rid the world of nuclear arms,” Taue said.

“And that friendly welcome will be a message to the world of the trust and cooperation that is needed.”

Prior to Obama’s speech, eight elderly victims of the 1945 bombs demonstrated along with supporters outside the U.S. embassy in Tokyo calling for him to push ahead toward his vision of a nuclear-free world.

Reporting by Chisa Fujioka, Reuters Television; Editing by Alex Richardson

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