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Obama touches on the plights of hibakusha during Hiroshima visit

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima's Naka Ward as hibakusha in the audience listen, on May 27, 2016. (Pool)

HIROSHIMA -- U.S. President Barack Obama, for the first time, touched on the plight of hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors, when he visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to mourn the war dead including A-bomb victims.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki hibakusha invited to the ceremony generally welcomed Obama's words, while some people were dissatisfied that the president stopped short of apologizing for the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on these two cities in 1945. There is a long and tough way ahead before nuclear abolition can be brought about.

President Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima since the bombing, laid a wreath of flowers at the cenotaph for the A-bomb victims in the park in the city's Naka Ward, where lists of 297,684 victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima are enshrined.

Obama then delivered a 17-minute speech, emphasizing the horror of atomic bombs and the stupidity of war. "The memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade," the president said.

Sunao Tsuboi, 91, co-chair of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, sat in the front row and listened to Obama's speech. Evening sunlight lit his scarred face as he listened.

Tsuboi was about 1.2 kilometers away from the hypocenter when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He was 20 at the time. He has suffered illnesses and had to take various medicines including blood-forming drugs. Nevertheless, he has been deeply involved in anti-nuclear campaigns in the United States and other places.

After his speech, President Obama approached Tsuboi and shook hands with him. Tsuboi asked Obama what should be done to make human beings happy and said, "The development of atomic bombs is an unfortunate matter in human history. The creation of nuclear weapons marked the beginning of misfortune."

Obama only said, "Thank you," and tighten his grip on Tsuboi's hand.

Tsugio Ito, 81, who lost his 12-year-old elder brother in the atomic bombing and his 35-year-old son in the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, said he was impressed with Obama's words, "We must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race."

Ito said he hopes that May 27, 2016, becomes the day when people renewed their determination never to use nuclear weapons again by putting lessons learned from the tragedy that the two countries experienced to good use.

After delivering his speech, Obama visited the Atomic Bomb Dome, and then was briefed about Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia caused by the atomic bomb at the age of 12. Sadako is known as the model for a statue representing a child victim of the atomic bombing.

Tomiko Kawano, 73, a classmate of Sadako, tearfully said, "I'm sure she experienced this day not with a feeling of hatred but with the hope that 'my death will lead to world peace.'"

Kawano said she wants President Obama to "feel the seriousness of the death of each and every victim, and send out a message to the world calling for nuclear abolition."

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